U.S. divided on course in Iran

Poll finds that 48% support military action

April 13, 2006|By DOYLE MCMANUS | DOYLE MCMANUS,LOS 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, a Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg poll found.

Asked whether they would support military action if Iran continued to produce material that could be used for nuclear weapons, 48 percent of the poll's respondents, almost half, said yes; 40 percent said no.

If President Bush were to order military action, most respondents said they would support airstrikes against Iranian targets, but only 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, along with eroding confidence that Bush will make good decisions.

A solid majority of respondents, 61 percent, said they believe Iran will eventually get nuclear weapons. Only 15 percent said they believe Iran would be prevented from developing nuclear weapons through diplomatic negotiations, and only 12 percent said they thought Iran would be stopped by military action.

Tehran says it is not seeking nuclear weapons, but Western governments say they do not believe the denials.

In a telling reflection of erosion in public support for Bush, 54 percent said they did not trust him to "make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran;" 42 percent 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 percent of respondents said they trusted him to make the right decision about whether to go to war.

The poll results - and interviews with respondents - made it clear that the discovery that U.S. intelligence was wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, as well as setbacks in the ensuing conflict against Iraqi insurgents, have persuaded many Americans to be more 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 is unsure of the best 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?"

The poll found that two in five Americans, 40 percent, said the war in Iraq has made them less supportive of military action against Iran; about the same proportion, 38 percent, said the experience of Iraq has had no influence on their views of Iran.

The poll contacted 1,357 adults nationwide by telephone from April 8 through 11. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the entire sample.

Doyle McManus writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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