Poll: Bumpy Road To Mideast Peace

Mideast Peace, Talks, Dove, Flags, Israel, Palestine AP

A majority of Americans approves of President Bush's handling of the current Israeli-Palestinian situation, but they are divided on whether the goal of establishing peace in the Middle East is something that the president or the U.S. government can do anything about.

There is continued confidence in eventual success for all of the U.S. goals in Iraq, even while many believe that U.S. intelligence agencies overestimated the extent of the Iraqi weapons program. Americans give top priority to stabilizing Iraq right now over hunting for weapons.

Looking beyond Iraq, Americans do not see Iran as a threat that requires military action now, and most Americans do not accept the doctrine of pre-emption as a general matter of policy. However, an increasing number think the war in Iraq has made military action in Iran likely.

THE MIDDLE EAST

As President Bush prepares to travel to the Middle East and the U.S. continues to push its roadmap for peace in that region, a majority of Americans approves of the president's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

BUSH'S HANDLING OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN SITUATION
Approve
55%
Disapprove
24%

Americans are divided on whether the president or the American government can help bring about the larger goal of peace in the Middle East. Just under half - 48% - think peace in that region is something the president can help accomplish.

BRINGING PEACE TO THE MID-EAST
Bush can do something
48%
Bush cannot
49%

Forty-six percent believe the U.S. government can do something to help bring peace to the region, and 48% say it cannot.

PRIORITIES FOR IRAQ

Americans believe the U.S. should make stabilizing Iraq its main priority right now. 59% say ensuring stability should be the main focus; just 15% say the hunt for weapons of mass destruction should be the top priority. Another 16% think finding Saddam Hussein should be the U.S.' number one focus.

THE U.S.' MAIN PRIORITY IN IRAQ NOW SHOULD BE...
Ensuring stability
59%
Finding Iraqi weapons
15%
Finding Saddam
16%

And despite images of unrest coming from Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, most Americans say the U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq are going at least somewhat well. However, just one in ten think U.S. efforts in Iraq are going very well.

U.S. EFFORTS TO BRING STABILITY TO IRAQ ARE GOING...?
Very well
11%
Somewhat well
61%
Somewhat badly
19%
Very badly
5%

Americans cite the liberation of the Iraqi people as the U.S.' most important accomplishment in Iraq to date - 40% say this. Only 18% cite stopping the Iraq weapons program - which was such a focus of interest prior to the conflict - as the United States' most important accomplishment.

Nearly one-third believe the most important result so far actually applies beyond Iraq, in the U.S. showing the world that it will use military force to pre-empt potential threats.

MOST IMPORTANT U.S. ACCOMPLISHMENT IN IRAQ IS...
Liberating the Iraqi people
40%
Stopping the Iraqi weapons program
18%
Showing the world that the U.S. will take action against threats
32%

Americans continue to believe - though by a shrinking margin - that the Iraqi people are grateful to the U.S. for removing Saddam, rather than resentful of the fact that U.S. troops remain in the country.

MEETING U.S. GOALS: FINDING WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

As the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction continues, Americans remain confident that the U.S. will eventually uncover them.

Nearly seven in ten Americans are confident the U.S. will turn up Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, while three in ten are not confident that will happen.

WILL THE U.S. FIND WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION IN IRAQ?
Yes, confident it will
68%
No, not confident it will
30%

U.S. intelligence has come under some scrutiny for its pre-war assessments of the Iraqi weapons program, and most Americans do believe U.S. intelligence agencies overestimated the number of weapons in Iraq, although few believe the Bush Administration made any such miscalculations.

Fifty-two percent think the CIA and U.S. intelligence did overestimate the number of weapons in Iraq; just 24% think it made an accurate assessment.

THE CIA AND U.S. INTELLIGENCE...
Overestimated Iraqi weapons
52%
Correctly estimated Iraqi weapons
24%
Underestimated Iraqi weapons
16%

By comparison, 39% of Americans asked to evaluate the Bush Administration's assessments think that the Administration made an over-estimate, and 35% say the Administration's estimates were accurate.

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION...
Overestimated Iraqi weapons
39%
Correctly estimated Iraqi weapons
35%
Underestimated Iraqi weapons
13%

Americans who believe that either the Bush Administration or the intelligence agencies overestimated the weapons program also believe those estimates were the result of exaggerations, intended to build support for the war. Three-quarters of those who think the intelligence agencies overestimated think those estimates were the result of exaggerations; 68% of those who think the Bush Administration overestimated think their estimates were exaggerations to build support.

MEETING U.S. GOALS: FINDING SADDAM -- DEAD OR ALIVE?

Meanwhile, as the hunt for Saddam Hussein - or proof of his demise - continues, Americans increasingly believe the former dictator is still alive -- 77% now say so, up from the 59% in late April who believed he had survived the war.

Like his weapons, most Americans are confident that Saddam will be found. 60% say so - though this figure is a bit lower than the 68% who are certain that the U.S. will locate the weapons.

WILL THE U.S. FIND SADDAM?
Yes, confident it will
60%
No, not confident it will
37%

This remains an important question: most Americans believe that it does still matter whether Saddam is alive or dead, though a sizeable 42% say it no longer matters.

DOES IT MATTER IF SADDAM IS ALIVE OR DEAD?
Yes
56%
No
42%

Fifty-nine percent of those who think Saddam is still alive say that it matters; half of those who think he is dead agree.

Overall, Americans' belief that removing Saddam Hussein was worth the costs of the war - both financial and human - of is holding steady. Almost two-thirds say it was, about the same levels expressed just after the war ended.

FOREIGN POLICY BEYOND IRAQ: FRIENDS AND ENEMIES

As Saudi Arabia begins to recover from the recent terrorist attack on its soil and pledges to help the U.S. to fight terror, Americans generally see Saudi Arabia as friendly, but not as an ally. Nearly one-quarter sees it as unfriendly or as an enemy.

Meanwhile, following the differences between the U.S. and France during the buildup to the Iraq conflict, Americans still do not think of France as an ally. Only 23% said they consider France a U.S. ally, a figure that is even slightly lower than in February, when 28% did. Today, 31% say France is unfriendly or an enemy, up from 25% in February.

All of these figures reflect a large change from the Spring of 2000, when a Gallup poll found 90% of Americans thought of France as either an ally or as friendly.

FOREIGN POLICY BEYOND IRAQ: PRE-EMPTION AND IRAN

Looking at the Middle East beyond Iraq, Americans overwhelming rate Iran as a threat that can be contained, or not a threat at all, and do not believe it requires military action at this time.

However, Americans suspect it may be increasingly likely that the U.S. will take action against Iran. 69% of Americans say the U.S. success in Iraq has made it at least somewhat more likely that the U.S. will next take military action against Iran - a large jump from the 50% who said this just after the war in Iraq.

As a matter of general policy, though, most Americans do not accept the doctrine of pre-emption. 53% say the U.S. should not attack another country unless the U.S. is attacked first. 39% say the U.S. should be able to attack any other country that it thinks might strike the U.S.

And when it comes to how they would like their nation to be seen around the world, just under half of Americans say it is most important that the U.S. be liked for its policies, while 38% say it is more important for the U.S. to be respected for its military power. However, the number who would prefer to be respected for military power has jumped in the past month, up from 30% in late April.


This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 758 adults interviewed by telephone May 27-28, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.
  • Joel Roberts

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