One year after the declared end of major combat in Iraq, Americans have new doubts about the war and doubts about what the Bush Administration has said about it.
Just 32 percent, the lowest number ever, say Iraq was a threat that required immediate military action a year ago.
Less than half, 47 percent, now say the U.S. did the right thing taking military action in Iraq, the lowest support recorded in CBS News/New York Times Polls since the war began.
There are growing concerns about the long-term impact of the war. 41 percent now think the war increased the threat of terrorism against the U.S. 71 percent say the Administration's policies have worsened the U.S.'s image in the Arab world.
The continued intensity of the fighting in Iraq surprised many Americans, and Americans believe it also surprised the Bush Administration. 44 percent say the fighting there has been harder than they personally expected, but 67 percent say it has been harder than the Administration expected. Nearly half say the war in Iraq was a mistake -- a finding similar to the public's assessment of the Vietnam War as measured by the Gallup Poll in 1968.
The public's assessments of the Bush Administration's decision-making before (and after) the war are also negative.
Seven in ten don't believe the Administration claims that the decision to go to war was made in March 2003, and say the Bush Administration had decided to go to war earlier than that.
61 percent believe the Administration did not try hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution before going to war in Iraq -- a reversal of the public's belief last year during the war.
For now, only 31 percent believe the Administration has a clear plan to turn over power in Iraq; 32 percent say it has a clear plan to rebuild the country.
The struggles in Iraq appear to have hurt assessments of the President. His overall approval rating (46 percent), his rating on handling Iraq (41 percent), and his rating on handling foreign policy (40 percent) are at the lowest points ever in this Administration. In each case, more disapprove than approve. 53 percent of voters are uneasy about Bush's handling of international crisis, figures unmatched since before 9/11. But these declines come as Americans see economic improvement -- 55 percent now say the economy is in good shape.
Bush's Democratic opponent, John Kerry, also has weaknesses. The President is far more likely than Kerry to be viewed as saying what he really believes. Bush holds an edge over Kerry on moral values, vision, and likeability. But voters view each candidate more negatively than positively, and when asked whom they'd support if the November election were held today (though it is still six months in the future) they divide almost evenly: Kerry 46 percent, Bush 44 percent. Should Ralph Nader join the race, it becomes Bush 43 percent, Kerry 41 percent, and Nader 5 percent.
EVALUATING THE WAR IN IRAQ: NOW VS. A YEAR AGO
As U.S. troops continue to face resistance in Iraq, fewer than half of Americans now say that military action there was the right thing to do. One year after the President declared an end to major combat, Americans cite the removal of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship as an important success -- but they also remain doubtful that the Administration has a clear plan for bringing stability to Iraq now, and are less likely to see a connection between the U.S.' action in Iraq and success in the broader war on terror.
For the first time, fewer than half of Americans -- 47 percent -- now say that taking military action in Iraq was the right thing to do. When the war began last spring, two-thirds believed it was the right thing to do, and 58 pecent still thought so as recently as last month.