Bush Iraq pitch: home vs. abroad
As the world reacts to address, support grows in the US but doubt persists overseas.
WASHINGTON — President Bush's urgent explanation of why a war against Iraq may be necessary has changed some opinions at home, but few - if any - abroad.
Perhaps the difference was the man and the setting. Americans are used to both politicians with flat country twangs and the ritualistic grandeur of the annual State of the Union address.
To other nations these things might be grating - especially in combination.
Perhaps the difference is Sept. 11. On that day the United States was wrenched from complacent feelings that terror happened elsewhere to a sense of special vulnerability. To raise the specter of further attacks, as Bush did in his speech, is to pluck at a chord that resonates less in nations that have long lived with such danger.
Perhaps the difference is simply context. In America war seems an onrushing train. Reservists are leaving their homes all across the nation; administration spokesmen hammer at Saddam Hussein in every news cycle. In Paris and London, conflict perhaps seems more distant, and less inevitable.
But whatever the reasons, at least Bush seems able to rally some domestic support, while much of the rest of the world remains obdurate in its insistence that war now is a waste.
In his State of the Union the President "was doing two things: indicating resolve, and still trying to build whatever support he could for the resolve he was indicating," says Robert Pfaltzgraff, a professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
This is not to say that opinion in the United States has now shifted in favor of war. Polls continue to show that Americans want to work against Iraq within the United Nations - something that seems unlikely at this point.
Domestic attitudes remain malleable, however. Initial surveys show that opinions shifted somewhat, at least for now, in the wake of Tuesday's address.
A CNN/USA Thursday/Gallup poll taken Tuesday night showed that 84 percent of viewers had a positive reaction to the State of the Union. Some 67 percent of respondents said that Bush made a convincing case about the need for the US to take military action. This represented a significant shift, as prior to the address only 47 percent of the same group of people said that the administration had made such a case.
Opinion in the US is also split regionally. Areas in the Northeast and mideast that went for Democrat Al Gore in the 2000 election remain less inclined to go to war than states that voted for Bush.
Across the Western high plains into the snowclad Rockies of Montana, the President's words went far, in the minds of many, to make the case for military action.
For Republicans Tom and Kathy Gibson of Bozeman, the State of the Union speech convinced them that using military force is the best option. Mrs. Gibson says she already backed the president before his speech.
But Mr. Gibson had many questions that he says were answered in the presidential address. Chief among them was whether the Bush administration was motivated by a quest to capture Iraq's oil reserves or remove Saddam because he is a legitimate agent of terror.
"He made a compelling argument that military action is warranted for the safety and security of the US and in eliminating a threat to the world," says Mr. Gibson, who is treasurer at Montana State University.
"He [the President] won me over by saying that Saddam is hiding the terrorists and arming them at the same time. I think he's right by pointing out that if we wait until terrorists strike again, it will be too late," he says.
In New York City - which, despite its recent record of electing GOP mayors, is reliably Democratic on the national level - reaction was harsher.
Dawn Murphy, a single Caucasian student at the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University, was not convinced by the Iraq portion of President Bush's State of the Union Address. "I think he's already made the decision to go," says Ms. Murphy, a petite brunette, with her hair in a blue bandana. "I guess it's good that he is providing evidence of Iraq's wrongdoing, because obviously the US has intelligence information that the public needs to know. But I don't think that the existence of weapons justifies invading the country."
Neither does much of the rest of the world. In Europe, President Bush's State of the Union address did little to convince skeptical leaders and publics about the necessity to invade Iraq.
Detlev Heidbreder, an attorney in Bonn, dismisses the president's speech. "That was a declaration of war. The war will start Feb. 17; that's my prediction," he says, adding: "I am an absolute fan of America. I go to the States twice a year. But I am against this war. There is no such thing as a just war."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, pressed to give UN weapons inspectors more time. Using almost identical language, they said any decision on war can only be taken in the UN Security Council.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin welcomed President Bush's announcement that the US will show what evidence it has. But, like Germany, he warned Washington against taking unilateral steps and insisted that any decision on war must be taken by the UN.
By contrast, London offered a more positive response. "If Saddam Hussein is allowed to carry on developing weapons of mass destruction ... he is not just a threat to his own region, he is a threat to the world," said Mr. Blair, who arrives in Washington at the end of the week.
But in Turkey, which is at least nominally a US ally on the Iraq issue, neither this week's report of UN arms inspectors nor the State of the Union address seemed to sway public opinion, which is overwhelmingly opposed to a war in neighboring Iraq.
"One critical variable is the intent on the part of the Bush government. If they are willing to show that the Iraqi government is doing things it shouldn't be doing or shows evidence of a link to Al Qaeda, that could change opinion here," says Dr. Ilter Turan, a professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University.
• Contributing to this story were staff writers Faye Bowers in Washington and Ilene Prusher in Istanbul, Turkey, as well as Todd Wilkinson in Bozeman, Mont., Stacey Vanek Smith in New York, and William Boston in Bonn, Germany.
President Bush has rallied new public support for military action against Iraq, and he has won early backing for a number of his other priorities, but he has not entirely quelled Americans' doubts about his handling of the economy.
Early public reactions to Mr. Bush's State of the Union address have been generally positive. According to an instant-reaction poll conducted by CNN/USA Thursday/Gallup, 84 percent of viewers had positive reactions to the speech. In addition, 71 percent of viewers said the policies Bush proposed would move the country in the right direction - down from 91 percent after last year's State of the Union, but up from 52 percent just days before Bush gave the address.
The positive reaction to the speech seems likely to boost - or at least stabilize - Bush's approval ratings, which had been creeping down in recent weeks to around 60 percent. Bush supporters point out that even a slight bounce would be notable: According to Matthew Dowd, a pollster for the Republican National Committee, neither Ronald Reagan, nor George H.W. Bush, nor Bill Clinton saw his approval ratings go up by more than two points after State of the Union addresses at a comparable point in his term.
But others predict that any bounce Bush receives will quickly disappear. "The president will get a spike in public opinion [after the speech], as presidents usually do. But 72 hours from now, the dust will settle, and he will emerge ... where he was going in," says independent pollster John Zogby.
The biggest immediate benefit for the president may be on the question of Iraq. Sixty-seven percent of viewers said Bush made a convincing case for military action, up from 47 percent before the speech. Bush also won 67 percent approval for his proposal to reform Medicare, while 58 percent supported his push for more tax cuts.
On the whole, however, Bush's economic proposals met less positive reaction. Out on the streets of Manhattan, many who watched the speech worried that the president's other domestic and foreign policies might drive up the deficit and further drain the economy.
"[The president] should forgo a tax cut and get back to balancing the budget," says Mitch Todd, a New York technology worker.
"Changing Social Security, money for AIDS - these are all nice things, but somebody's got to pay for them," echoes Gary Geschwind, a utility consultant.
Even many Bush supporters viewed the economic plan as the weakest part of the speech: "It wasn't as convincing as his Iraq plans, but I happen to agree with him," says Harriette Blum, a retired schoolteacher.
Surveys show that public confidence in the economy - and Bush's handling of it - have eroded in recent weeks. The latest Gallup poll taken before the speech showed only 46 percent of respondents approving of Bush's economic stewardship. His address did little to turn that around: 49 percent of viewers felt his program would help the economy, while 43 percent said it would not - a significant drop from last year, when 73 percent responded favorably to Bush's economic plan. In addition, 61 percent said their confidence in Bush's economic leadership was unchanged by the speech.
- Liz Marlantes
• Stacey Vanek Smith in New York and staff writer Gail Russell Chaddock in Washington contributed to this report.