NPR logo Support for War Dives as Bush Seeks New Iraq Plan


Support for War Dives as Bush Seeks New Iraq Plan

President George W. Bush (C) prepares to speak to the press, with Vice President Dick Cheney (left) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, following a meeting with senior State Department officials on Iraq, Dec. 11, 2006. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The White House on Tuesday pushed back until January a major policy address from President Bush on the war in Iraq. The delay comes as several major national polls on the war, all of which became public Tuesday, show plummeting public support.

The president's speech had been promised before Christmas; the delay until next month comes as Mr. Bush continues to debrief policy experts from inside and outside his administration and weigh his options on a new U.S. strategy for Iraq. But one consideration could have been the combined weight of the polls, which offered numbers sure to be disturbing to the president and his advisers.

All the polls found that backing for the war — already weak enough to hurt Republican candidates in the November midterm elections — continues to decline. They also found that the general public wants the president to pay heed to key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a 10-member bipartisan panel commissioned by Congress. Among its 79 recommendations, the group urged the Bush administration to begin direct talks with Iran and Syria and to set a goal of withdrawing most U.S. ground troops over the next 15 months.

This week, the president has been holding a series of high-profile meetings behind closed doors at the Pentagon and State Department, as well as with prominent Iraqi politicians. The White House has said the president is seeking a new approach that might stem the tide of sectarian violence in Iraq. But the president and his spokespersons have said these meetings are not about the ISG report or its specific recommendations.

The White House's resistance to the report reflects the attitude of conservatives generally, who have denounced the report as a defeatist. But the more general public is clearly dissatisfied with the situation in Iraq and interested in policy alternatives.

The CBS poll, based on interviews conducted Dec. 8-10, shows that 21 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq. Further, the polls shows that 75 percent disapprove. (A scant 4 percent is undecided on this point.)

The poll also shows that 70 percent are "uneasy" about the president's "ability to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq." A majority also believe, according to the CBS survey, that it was wrong to take military action against Iraq and that the United States should have stayed out.

Other polls tell a similar story.

The Washington Post and ABC News jointly conduct regular surveys. Their latest, released Tuesday, found that seven in 10 Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war. Washington Post/ABC News pollsters have been asking that question since the war began; the last time that more than half of those surveyed (55 percent) said they approved of how the war is being run was in January of 2004. In the latest poll, just over one in four (28 percent) said they approve.

The latest USA TODAY poll also reveals a growing sense that the president is not capable of fixing the problems in Iraq. When asked if the United States can win the war, 35 percent combined to say either definitely or probably. Twenty-five percent said they think the United States "can" win, but probably won’t. And 36 percent said they don't think the war can be won. In the USA TODAY poll, three in four described Iraq as being in a civil war, a term the White House rejects.

Finally, in a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, about half of all Americans were aware of the report by the Iraq Study Group. Of those who were, a majority said it did not think the president will follow its recommendations. One-third of the respondents to the Pew survey think the United States will accomplish its goals in Iraq. Fifty-eight percent say they want the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing troops.