7 in 10 Americans Back Decision to Go to War
Poll Finds Public Divided on Hussein's Fate as a Measure of Success


By Richard Morin and Claudia Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 21, 2003; Page A25

A substantial majority of Americans support the war with Iraq, but the public is divided over whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must be killed, captured or merely removed from power for the United States and its allies to be successful, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

More than seven in 10 endorsed the decision of President Bush to wage war on Iraq. A similar proportion expressed confidence that the United States and its allies are right to use military force to topple Hussein and rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. And two out of three said they believe Bush had worked hard enough to try to find a diplomatic solution before ordering the attack.

"I didn't vote for George Bush, but I strongly support him, and if anything I think he should have acted sooner," said Rick Jackson, 31, a manager at an engineering company in Bradenton, Fla. "I think he exhausted all channels to appease those who don't agree with us."

But one in four Americans disagree, including Julie Fanselow, 41, a travel writer in Twin Falls, Idaho, who attended an antiwar vigil yesterday evening. "I would rank this as among the saddest days of my life. . . . The whole idea of striking at another country that has not attacked us, and the idea of waging a war that we don't even know the cost of, at a time when we're facing such economic distress here at home -- it all pains me, it really does."

The survey also found that about half of those interviewed said Hussein must be captured or killed for the war to be declared a success, while more than four in 10 said it would be sufficient if the Iraqi leader were removed from power. "I feel he has to be captured or killed," said Ross Bethard, 60, a Ford Motor Co. employee who lives outside Cleveland and is cautiously supportive of the Iraq invasion. "I feel that he is going to reappear someplace else if they don't capture him."

A slight majority -- 53 percent -- said the war would be justified even if troops failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction -- Bush's major rationale for the war. But more than a third said the United States and its allies need to find banned weapons to validate the decision to use force against Iraq.

"They need to find them. If they came out and showed us that he had all these weapons, then I could say to myself that we were justified going to war," said Charlene Boudreau, 65, a retired receiving clerk in Enfield, Conn., who said she is opposed to Bush's decision to go to war.

A total of 506 randomly selected adults were interviewed last night. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Bush's overall job approval rating got a modest boost as Americans once again joined ranks around their leader at a time of national crisis. Sixty-seven percent said they approved of the job that Bush was doing as president, up from 62 percent less than three weeks ago. About two in three said they approved of the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq, unchanged since the president's speech on Monday giving Hussein 48 hours to go into exile.

Most Americans expect that the duration of the war will be measured in months, not days or weeks, the poll found. More than half said the fighting would last at least several months, and about one in five predicted that it would last a year or longer. About six in 10 said the United States is right to attack Iraq now, while one in four said the allies should have waited longer.

The first full day of fighting seemed to calm the nation's earlier fears about casualties, as the proportion fearing "significant" numbers of U.S. military casualties dropped to 37 percent from 62 percent two weeks ago.

Americans were divided over whether the United States should strike Iraqi military targets even if they are located in areas where civilians might be killed. About half said the United States should do so, and nearly as many disagreed.

"I really think it's horrible that Saddam has to place his military weapons in situations that would endanger his own people; it shows what type of a person he is," said Damian Telencio, 26, a trainer for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Columbia, SC. "I hate to see civilians die. But on September 11 we saw a lot of our own civilians die. It's war. It does happen," Telencio said.

Three in four said they were either "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the United States and the allied countries that form Bush's "coalition of the willing" were doing the right thing in waging war against Iraq -- virtually identical to the proportion of Americans who supported the decision to attack Iraq in 1991, when the United States had the endorsement of the United Nations.

Two in three said that Bush has done a good job of explaining his reasons for going to war. And an equally large majority -- 67 percent -- agreed that U.S. vital interests are at stake in the confrontation with Iraq.

The public rallied in a similar manner after the start of the Persian Gulf War in January 1991. A poll conducted the night after the first airstrikes found that three in four Americans approved of the decision to go to war, approved of the assault's timing and said the United States had done all it could diplomatically.