President Bush's iron hand in overthrowing Saddam Hussein is sitting well with most Americans. They prefer his tough-guy methods to the more dovish policies that likely would have come from three Democrats -- his predecessor, his 2000 challenger and his chief critic.
In our recent survey of 1,000 adults, we asked, "As of today, who of the following do you think is the best leader to deal with the situation in Iraq?" Along with Bush, we listed former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and former Vice President Al Gore. Singly or even combined, this hypothetical triumvirate didn't come close to Bush. Fifty-six percent chose Bush, to a combined 37 percent for the other three. Seven percent said they didn't know.
Not surprisingly, former President Clinton fared best among Democrats.
A respectable 22 percent said they would prefer that he navigate the shifting sands of diplomacy and warcraft surrounding Iraq. Among Democratic respondents, Clinton placed ahead of Bush. Doubtless many recall that Clinton bucked his detractors' peacenik label by launching U.S. aerial military attacks in Europe in 1994 and 1999. Many believe those bombing missions helped check the expansionist and even genocidal policies of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Of course Clinton also ordered attacks on scattered targets around the globe that were believed to house or train terrorists. When one turned out allegedly to be an aspirin factory, Clinton critics had a field day. Either way, most Americans don't view Bill Clinton as having the boldness to invade the Middle East.
That said, it comes as little surprise that far fewer would hand the keys of American diplomacy to Jimmy Carter. The recent Noble Prize-winner and human rights advocate continues to say the U.S.-led coalition isn't justified in its forced ouster of Hussein. But Americans in large numbers reject Carter's cautionary read on the situation. Only 11 percent of poll respondents chose him. With national approval of the war at around 70 percent in most surveys, Carter's position appears as dated as his presidency a generation ago.