Questions for Postwar Polls
by Steve Sailer
UPI, April 8, 2003
April 8, 2003 (UPI) -- American public opinion over the past three weeks has followed patterns familiar from earlier wars. The number of Americans favoring the war bounded upwards when the shooting started as the rally-round-the-flag effect kicked in.
Although much of the press suddenly turned pessimistic during the second week, this had no perceptible effect on measured support among the populace. The triumphs of the third week have brought some of the remaining doubters on board. Even in the San Francisco Bay area, the new Field Poll reports 63 percent approval for the war.
The future of opinion in the post-war era, both here and abroad, will be more difficult to predict, however. For example, would a quick victory reconcile the European public to America's starting the war without U.N. approval?
In a massive poll of 15,000 people in 30 European countries conducted in late January by EOS Gallup Europe, the citizens of 29 countries opposed the U.S. invading Iraq without U.N. backing, most by dramatic margins. (The populace of Slovakia was the pro-American exception.)
Since the beginning of the fighting, continental European opinion remains staunchly anti-war. In polls taken since the war began, 84 percent of Germans are against the U.S. attack, as are 76 percent of Italians and 68 percent of Swedes (although that's down from 81 percent of Swedes before the first strike). Among the Greeks, who are traditionally extremely suspicious of U.S. policy, 94 percent oppose the invasion.
In France, 32 percent overall (and 72 percent of France's Muslims) are pulling for an Iraqi victory. In Russia, 58 percent say they hope Saddam Hussein wins, compared to only 3 percent rooting for an American victory.
America's standing is improving in the English-speaking countries, though, with a solid majority of Britons now backing action, while Canadians are now evenly split.
Difficult questions remain. Will the evidence that is sure to emerge of the Iraqi regime's use of murder and torture against its own people sway European opinion?
Will the potential discovery of Iraqi chemical weapons validate the invasion in overseas eyes? Will they even believe these American claims or will they feel that the United States planted the evidence? Will the fact that Saddam's regime didn't use these "weapons of mass destruction" to defend itself when in mortal peril undermine in the world's eyes the Bush administration's claim that these poisons were a sizable danger to peace?
Similarly, will the speed of the American advance to downtown Baghdad alleviate foreign citizens' worries about civilian casualties? Or, will the evident incompetence of the undergunned Iraqi military at mounting any kind of effective operation larger than guerilla resistance exacerbate overseas skepticism about the White House's claim that Iraq was a genuine threat to invade its neighbors?
Will the quickness and ease of the American victory -- despite its restrictive rules of engagement, its lack of a Turkish front, and its limited manpower -- reassure the rest of the world? Or will these indications that the United States can conquer a sovereign nation while barely breaking a sweat frighten the people of the world even more?
This raises an important question, one that few polls have adequately plumbed. Does humanity (speaking generally) oppose the war because of concern for civilian casualties, respect for international law, regard for the United Nations, and the other reasons popularly given? Or is the fundamental issue that the rest of the planet believes America wants to rule the world and they don't want to be ruled by America? If the latter, then this demonstration of American military might may well make them even more hostile to American power.
For that matter, do Americans want to rule the world, or at least the Middle East? A Los Angeles Times poll from last week found 50 percent of Americans favoring "military action" against Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons and 42 percent wanting to fight Syria if it supplies night vision goggles and other assistance to Iraq, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has charged it is doing.
If the United States were to invade Syria over goggles, would the rest of the globe be supportive? Or would they ask: Exactly how much faster could Iraq have lost the war without these goggles?
Finally, if America really is so militarily powerful, does it ultimately matter if it alienates its traditional allies? Do you have to speak softly if you carry a truly huge stick?
The answer might depend on whether Europeans care enough about the emerging American hegemony to spend the money to challenge U.S. supremacy in weapons technology. The success of Europe's Airbus at defying American dominance of the civilian airliner market shows that Europe has ample technical skills to threaten America's current military mastery of the skies, which they then could sell on the world market.
But does Europe have the will? The answer to that question might reside in another question that has yet to have been asked widely in polls: How many Europeans fear that America might someday attack their own country?