Iraq: Is Bush on Target?

Nearly three-quarters of those who responded say the President should focus more on fixing the U.S. economy than on taming Iraq

Readers of BusinessWeek Online are divided on the best way to handle the crisis in Iraq, but they're very sure about several issues related to that situation: They say fixing the economy is more important to them than taming Iraq, that the Administration of President George W. Bush hasn't done a particularly good job of managing either the economy or Iraq -- and they think the U.S. will go to war with Iraq. Those are the primary findings of our Jan. 27 Reader Survey.

Asked what they think the wisest course of action in Iraq would be, nearly 36% of more than 1,500 people who responded opted for leaving U.N. inspectors in the country permanently and attacking only if the U.N. finds arms violations, vs. the 25% who would attack Iraq right away. The remainder were divided between giving the inspectors more time to determine whether Iraq has nuclear or biological weapons before deciding what to do, and simply calling the inspections a success and waiting to see if Saddam Hussein stays in line.

The lack of a consensus reflects uncertainty over the exact nature of Iraq's transgressions: Nearly 52% of those who responded think Iraq has weapons of mass destruction -- the elimination of which would be the justification for a war -- but 48% think Iraq doesn't have such weapons, or aren't sure that it does.

PROOF OR APPROVAL.

  Either way, the U.S. shouldn't unilaterally try to bring Iraq to heel, in the view of those who participated in the survey: Some 72% think the U.S. wouldn't be justified in attacking Iraq on its own if it can't be proven that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. And 54% think the U.S. shouldn't attack without the approval of the U.N. and other countries even if proof emerges that Iraq does have such weapons.

In fact, those who responded view Iraq as a secondary consideration compared with the health of the economy, which many economists say is suffering in part from uncertainty over what will happen in the Middle East. Some 74% say reviving the economy is more important to them than fighting Iraq, vs. 23% who feel the opposite way.

And 71% think the Bush Administration should be focusing more on the economy than on Iraq, vs. the 26% who feel that Iraq should come first. Some 62% of those who responded think that the Administration has managed the economy poorly or not very well, vs. about 37% who think it has done O.K. or better.

IT'S ABOUT OIL.

  Iraq may be a lower priority for most readers partly because they widely suspect that the Bush Administration's real reason for targeting Iraq is more complex than the one the President emphasizes. Only 20% feel that the Administration's strategy is aimed at defending the U.S. against weapons of mass destruction, while another 20% think it simply wants to finish a job Bush's father started a decade ago in the war to liberate Kuwait after Iraqi invaded it.

Some 42%, however, think the Administration's primary motive is to secure U.S. access to Middle East oil. Overall, more than 61% of those who responded think Bush & Co. have handled the Iraq crisis poorly or not very well, vs. the 38% or so who think they have done O.K. or better.

All that notwithstanding, respondents agreed most widely on the idea that, despite what they think, the President ultimately will do whatever he wants: Nearly 81% think the U.S. will end up attacking Iraq, vs. only about 6% who think it won't.

Here are the full results of the survey, which as always was unscientific, since anyone who wished to could participate:

Based on what you know about the situation in Iraq, what do you think is the wisest course of action for the U.S. to take at this point?

Option Total %  
Attack Iraq soon, while the weather is still cool enough for ground troops to operate 386 25.31 %
Keep up the rhetoric against Saddam and keep massing U.S. troops in the Mideast, but give the U.N. inspectors more time 267 17.51 %
Persuade the U.N. to leave inspectors in Iraq permanently and attack only if they find arms violations -- or if Iraq expels them 545 35.74 %
Call the inspections a success, and let things cool down unless new evidence shows Iraq is making nuclear or chemical weapons 296 19.41 %
Don't know 31 2.03 %

Experts cite uncertainty over Iraq as one reason the U.S. economy is continuing to recover so slowly. Which is a higher priority to you?

Option Total %  
Taming Iraq 354 23.23 %
Reviving the economy 1129 74.08 %
Not sure 41 2.69 %

Based on what you know about the situation in Iraq, do you believe that it has any weapons of mass destruction?

Option Total %  
Yes 787 51.64 %
No 374 24.54 %
Not sure 363 23.82 %

If it can't be proven that Iraq has such weapons, do you think the U.S. would be justified in attacking it without the approval and participation of the U.N. and other countries?

Option Total %  
Yes 370 24.23 %
No 1099 71.97 %
Not sure 58 3.80 %

If it is proven that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, do you think the U.S. would be justified in attacking it without the approval and participation of the U.N. and other countries?

Option Total %  
Yes 605 39.75 %
No 833 54.73 %
Not sure 84 5.52 %

Do you think the Bush Administration's strategy against Iraq is mostly about:

Option Total %  
Defending the U.S. against weapons of mass destruction 312 20.37 %
Punishing Iraq for fostering terrorism 66 4.31 %
Forcing out a despicable dictator 92 6.01 %
Ensuring U.S. access to Middle East oil 650 42.43 %
Finishing a job that would better have been done a decade ago in operation Desert Storm 306 19.97 %
Other 85 5.55 %
Not sure 21 1.37 %

At this point, do you think the Bush Administration should be focusing more on:

Option Total %  
The situation in Iraq 398 26.17 %
The economy 1084 71.27 %
Not sure 39 2.56 %

Overall, how well do you think the Bush Administration has handled the Iraq crisis?

Option Total %  
Very well 261 17.07 %
Reasonably well 175 11.45 %
O.K. 133 8.70 %
Not very well 272 17.79 %
Poorly 675 44.15 %
Not sure 13 0.85 %

Overall, how well do you think the Bush Administration has handled the economy?

Option Total %  
Very well 115 7.53 %
Reasonably well 182 11.91 %
O.K. 149 9.75 %
Not very well 245 16.03 %
Poorly 819 53.6 %
Not sure 18 1.18 %

Do you believe the U.S. will end up attacking Iraq, or not?

Option Total %  
Will attack 1223 80.57 %
Won't attack 95 6.26 %
Not sure 200 13.18 %
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