President Bush is acting forcefully against Iraq in just the political nick of time. And his bold move to go ahead with a war likely will earn him soaring job approval ratings.
The seemingly endless diplomatic two-step around Saddam Hussein not only has plunged previously popular British Prime Minister Tony Blair into a black hole of public disapproval at home, it has been inching Bush lower and lower toward a 50 percent approval rating. Public support in the 40 percentiles would be disastrous for the president. Remember, it was Blair's anemic support in Britain that forced the United States to delay earlier military action against Iraq in favor of yet another "one last effort at diplomacy." A continuing treadmill of inaction could spell doom for Blair and Bush.
This was reflected in our recent poll that showed Bush leading all announced Democratic 2004 presidential challengers with 44 percent against 35 percent. The president polled 48 percent in early February.
But let there be no doubt. Our next survey of the presidential race this month will likely show monumental gains for Bush. And a quick review of some of our other recent surveys will explain why that is the case.
First, let's consider support for the president's position that military action is necessary if Hussein isn't otherwise removed from office. Our survey immediately following the tragic explosion of the Columbia space shuttle demonstrated that even such a national setback did not deter Americans from supporting the president in a war with Iraq. Over 60 percent said they would be behind the president. (The question posed didn't mention the United Nations one way or the other.)
Second came an interesting response to our recent survey asking Americans how they felt about other prominent nations generally considered friends and allies of the United States. Even a month ago, Americans were rating France and Russia among those they least admire. Given the aggressive nature of France's anti-war efforts since that poll was taken, it's probably safe to assume that the intensity of French nationalistic fervor is more than matched by equal ardor for America by Americans. And it's probable that some in the United States who might have been less supportive of Bush are now firmly in his corner because of foreign opposition to him.
What about those Americans who fear that a war with Iraq might result in a drawn-out war, a sort of Vietnam in the sand? Our survey of late January showed that most Americans who had an opinion on the matter expected an Iraqi war to last from at least six months to more than a year. Nevertheless, other recent polls show they are ready to go forward with the fighting.