Doubts About Taking On Tehran
About half those polled support military action if Iran
continues its nuclear activity but don't trust President
Bush to make the call.
By Doyle McManus
Times Staff Writer
Angeles Times" -- - WASHINGTON — Americans
are divided over the prospect of U.S. military action
against Iran if the government in Tehran continues to pursue
nuclear technology — and a majority do not trust President
Bush to make the "right decision" on that issue, a Los
Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
Asked whether they would support military action if Iran
continued to produce material that could be used to develop
nuclear weapons, 48% of the poll's respondents, or almost
half, said yes; 40% said no.
If Bush were to order military action, most respondents said
they would support airstrikes against Iranian targets, and
about one in four said they would support the use of
American ground troops in Iran.
The findings of the poll, conducted largely before the
Tehran government announced Monday that it had enriched
uranium for civilian energy generation, reflected public
concern about Iran's acquisition of nuclear technology — but
public division over the best U.S. response.
A majority of respondents, 61%, said they believed that Iran
would eventually get nuclear weapons. Fifteen percent said
they believed that Iran would be prevented from developing
nuclear weapons through diplomatic negotiations, and 12%
said they thought Iran would be stopped through military
Iran says it is not seeking nuclear weapons, but Western
governments say they do not believe the Tehran government's
Slip in the public's trust
In a telling reflection of Bush's erosion in public
support, 54% said they did not trust him to "make the right
decision about whether we should go to war with Iran," while
42% of respondents said they trusted him to do so.
That was a reversal of public sentiment since 2003, on the
eve of Bush's decision to invade Iraq, when 55% of
respondents said they trusted him to make the right decision
over whether to go to war.
The poll results and interviews with individual respondents
made it clear that the experience of Iraq — both the
discovery that U.S. intelligence was wrong to declare that
Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the costly
continuing conflict against Iraqi insurgents — have
persuaded many Americans to be cautious about going to war
against neighboring Iran.
"I think our intelligence really stinks," said Marilyn
Wisniewski, 65, of Crestwood, Ill. She said she initially
supported the war in Iraq, but was unsure of the proper
course in Iran.
"How do we know what they have?" she asked. "We can't trust
[the Iranians]. We have to protect ourselves. But how are we
going to do that? I wouldn't send troops in there. I suppose
I might support airstrikes."
Others echoed her sentiments. "You can't make the same
mistake twice," said Gene Gentrup, 42, of Liberty, Mo.
"Don't tell me they have WMD if they're saying they don't….
We have damaged our credibility on that in Iraq.
"If we do anything in Iran, it's important that we do it
with support from other countries," he added.
The poll contacted 1,357 adults nationwide by telephone
Saturday through Tuesday. The margin of error is plus or
minus 3 percentage points for the entire sample.
Americans' support for military action against Iran has
fluctuated in recent years. In a Times/Bloomberg poll in
January, 57% said they would support military action if Iran
continued to produce material that could be used to develop
nuclear weapons. But in a Fox News poll in January 2005, 41%
of respondents said they believed the United States should
"take military action to keep Iran from … trying to develop
a nuclear weapons program."
In this month's Times/Bloomberg poll, when respondents were
asked what kind of military action against Iran they would
support if President Bush chose to act, 44% said they would
support airstrikes but oppose the use of ground troops; 19%
said they would support both airstrikes and ground troops;
and 6% said they would support the use of ground troops
The Iraq factor
The poll found that two in five Americans, or 40%, said
the war in Iraq had made them less supportive of military
action against Iran; about the same proportion, 38%, said
the experience of Iraq had no influence on their views of
Iran. By a ratio of more than 3-to-1, Democrats were more
likely than Republicans to say that Iraq had made them less
supportive of action in Iran.
On Iraq, the poll found that Americans had become markedly
more pessimistic about the chances of success in the war
since the beginning of this year.
About one in four respondents, or 23%, said they expected
the situation in Iraq to "get better" over the coming year.
In the Times/Bloomberg poll conducted in January, 34% said
they expected the situation to improve.
Most of that decline in overall confidence came from
respondents who described themselves as Democrats; 6% in
this month's poll said they expected things to improve over
the coming year, down from 24% in January. But Republicans'
optimism also dropped, to 44% this month from 55% in
That sentiment may rest in part on the growing view that
Iraq is now in a de facto state of civil war, a
characterization the Bush administration has contested. The
poll in January was taken a month after Iraq's successful
parliamentary election, when sectarian violence was at a
A majority of respondents, 56%, said they believed Iraq was
"currently engaged in a civil war." And a record high number
for the Times poll, 58%, said they believed it was not worth
going to war in Iraq. Until the spring of 2004, a majority
of poll respondents said it was worth going to war, but
since 2004 the number disagreeing has gradually risen.
No rush to withdraw
Almost half, 45%, of those polled this month said they
believed Bush should set a date for withdrawing U.S. troops
from Iraq by the end of his term in 2009. That is a
significant increase since October 2004, when a similar
question was asked and 28% said Bush should set a definite
date for withdrawal.
Nevertheless, most Americans do not support an immediate
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq — not even if a
full-scale civil war breaks out, the poll found.
When asked what the United States should do if the violence
in Iraq turned into "a nationwide civil war," about
one-third, or 32%, said all American troops should be
withdrawn. About the same proportion, 33%, said U.S. troops
should remain neutral and attempt to mediate. One-fourth, or
25%, said U.S. troops should intervene in the violence —
either to stop the fighting or to help one side win (the
latter a minority opinion that measured at 6%).
"If we're there to do a job, we should finish the job," said
Wisniewski, a moderate Democrat who works at an insurance
agency in a Chicago suburb. "But if it gets to the point
where the Shiites and the Sunnis are just fighting each
other, it seems self-defeating. If our people are getting
killed because of that, what's the reasoning?"
But asked if she favored an immediate withdrawal of U.S.
troops under those circumstances, she paused.
"I don't know," she said.
Options in Iran
Q: Do you think Iran will be stopped from getting nuclear
weapons through diplomatic solutions, or only through
military action, or will it eventually get nuclear weapons?
Will eventually get nuclear weapons: 61%
Diplomatic solutions: 15%
Military action: 12%
Don't know: 12%
Q: Suppose George W. Bush decides to order military action
against Iran, which action would you support:
Airstrikes/no ground troops: 44%
No military action: 20%
Combination of airstrikes and ground troops: 19%
Ground troops: 6%
Don't know: 11%
Q: If Iran continued to produce material that can be used to
develop nuclear weapons, would you support or oppose
Support : 48%
Oppose : 40%
Don't know: 12%
Q: Would you trust George W. Bush to make the right decision
about whether we should go to war with Iran?
Don't know: 4%
All questions are summarized. For full/exact wording of
questions along with poll results and analysis, go to:
How the poll was conducted:
The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,357 adults
nationwide by telephone Saturday through Tuesday. Telephone
numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the
nation, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed
and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were
made to contact each number. Adults were weighted slightly
to conform with their respective census figures for sex,
race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling
error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain
subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll
results may also be affected by factors such as question
wording and the order in which questions are presented.
Source: Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll