The public expects and supports continued military action to combat terrorism. No less than 92% think the United States will have to use military force to reduce the threat of terrorism, even if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. The perception that the fight against terrorism remains unfinished also is reflected in the fact that just 38% of Americans say the military effort to destroy terrorism is going very well, in spite of the quick victory over the Taliban.
A solid majority (73%) favors taking military action against Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule there, and as many as 56% support using force even if it means the United States might suffer thousands of casualties. This is less than the number in previous surveys who favored taking action against the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, but it nonetheless represents a strong endorsement of the prospective use of force compared with other military missions in the post-Cold War era.
The nationwide survey of 1,201 adults by the Pew Research Center, conducted Jan. 9-13 in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations, also finds the public taking a tough line when presented with options for reviving weapons inspections in Iraq. Nearly half (49%) favor threatening force to get Saddam to accept weapons inspections, while just a third say the United States should offer to lift economic sanctions against Baghdad.
The only possible qualification to the public’s broad endorsement of military action against Iraq is the widely-held view that the United States should gain allied support before launching an attack. Of those who favor the use of force, 53% say the U.S. should proceed on that course only if the allies agree, while 41% are willing to go it alone. Still, there is wide agreement that any one of several reasons could justify a possible U.S. attack – including confirmation that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction.
The public’s war footing also is seen in the solid majorities favoring offensive action against terrorist groups in Somalia and Sudan, and in the comparable level of support for aiding the Philippines and Indonesia in their anti-terror efforts. Not only do Americans endorse a military approach in those concrete circumstances, most believe that striking at countries attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction is an effective way to reduce future terrorism. While clearly comfortable with a military approach in the struggle against terrorism, Americans back other strategies as well. A 53% majority gives high priority to cutting U.S. dependence on Mideast oil as a means of reducing future terrorism. Among those who closely follow international affairs, this option attracts more support than any military or diplomatic alternative.
Few oppose President Bush’s plan to use military tribunals, rather than the criminal court system, for trials of non-U.S. terrorist suspects. Still, the proportion who worry that the government’s new anti-terrorism laws may excessively restrict civil liberties has risen since September, from 34% to 45%.