POSTSCRIPT / June 19, 2003 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Survey shows broad support for Iraq war

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – America being a vast country with a 281-million population of diverse racial roots and political persuasions, there are bound to be varied perceptions among them of why and how the US campaign against terrorism is being waged.Seven Asian journalists participating in a project of the State department were exposed Monday to this diversity on the opening day in Washington, DC, of a two-week program titled “United States Engagement in the Post-September 11 World.”

Terry Blatt, chief of the East Asia/Pacific branch of the Office of International Visitors at the State department, said in her welcome remarks that while Americans are individuals so jealous of their rights and privacy, they are always guided by a sense of community.

From the time of the westward pioneers, who set out not as one-wagon adventurers but in caravans pushing on together, to the 9/11 terror bombing of the twin towers in New York, she said Americans think and move as communities.

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CONTRASTS CITED: Beneath the sense of community, her boss Nan Bell (chief of the Grant Programs Division) advised us to note the contrasts and diversity when we journey to other places and meet average Americans where they live and work.

Aside from St. Louis, we are to visit the cities of Oklahoma and New York, ground zero where once stood the proud World Trade Center towers as symbol of the economic dominance of America.

Offering the best of big-time culture and small-town warmth, St. Louis sprawled on the western bluffs of the Mississippi river is the Gateway to the West, a role it accentuates with a 630-foot stainless steel welcome arch.

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SURVEY FINDINGS: Back in DC also last Monday, Dr. Steven Kull, director of the Center for Policy Attitudes, presented in an exchange with us at the Foreign Press Club the findings of their latest nationwide PIPA/Knowledge Networks survey.

Their poll showed that most Americans (68 percent) approve of the decision to go to war with Iraq. President George W. Bush got an approval rating of 74 percent for showing “strong leadership” in dealing with the Iraq situation.

Kull said the poll showed 58 percent of respondents believing that “as a result of having won the war with Iraq…President Bush is…in a stronger position to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The same survey showed, however, that despite the success of the war, only about half say they approve of the decision itself, as opposed to supporting the President.

The poll involved a nationwide sample of 1,265 respondents May 14-18. The margin of error was plus or minus 3-4 percent, depending on whether the question was administered to the whole sample or half the sample.

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SHIFTING MAJORITY: A majority (57 percent) of those polled said they believed that Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction at the beginning of the war, while 38 percent believed Iraq did not (18 percent) or were not sure (20 percent).

Among those who said they believed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, 84 percent believed that the administration was being misleading, rather than assuming that the administration simply made a mistake.

Even among those who were unsure about whether Iraq had such weapons, 56 percent believed that the administration was being misleading.

Kull said this suggested that if weapons were not found, and Americans became less certain that Iraq had such weapons, the percentage saying that the administration was being misleading could well become a majority.

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COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: It is remarkable that the survey showed also that many Americans are unaware that weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq.

“For some Americans, their desire to support the war may be leading them to screen out information that weapons of mass destruction have not been found,” Kull said. “Given the intensive news coverage and high levels of public attention to the topic, this level of misinformation suggests that some Americans may be avoiding having an experience of cognitive dissonance.”

He said: “To some extent this misperception can be attributed to repeated headlines that there has been a promising lead in the effort to find evidence of such weapons — headlines that are not counterbalanced by prominent reporting that these leads have not been fruitful. But there is also reason to believe that this misperception may be unconsciously motivated, as the mistaken belief is substantially greater among those who favored the war.”

Kull noted that among Republicans who said they follow international affairs very closely — and thus may also be more exposed to headlines reporting promising leads — a larger percentage (55 percent) said weapons have been found, with just 45 percent saying they have not.

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QUICK PULLOUT: Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in DC, said in the same forum that the US must look for a quick way to pull out its troops from Iraq to undercut the growing perception that they are an occupation force.

He said that the longer US troops stayed in Iraq, the deeper would be the resentment. He expressed doubts that the post-Saddam government sponsored by the US would be viable. The country, cobbled together by Great Britain, is itself not viable, he added.

Carpenter said that the trauma of 9/11 shifted US focus from China, long regarded as a strategic competitor, to Central Asia (Middle East). Still, he noted, China appears to remain as a long-term problem.

On the apparent inconsistency of American attitude toward countries tagged as sponsors of terrorism, he said that the US is still groping for a policy. There are many terrorist groups around, he said, but some of them are not necessarily targeting the US.

The inconsistency is apparent in the handling by the US of Israel vis-à-vis UN Security Council resolutions, and the different US approaches to the security threats posed by nuclear-capable North Korea compared to an Iraq hobbled by a decade-long embargo.

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U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE: Earlier Monday, a ranking State department official told us over lunch that the US would move in Southern Philippines only in the manner that the Manila government wants.

The US has made known privately to the Arroyo administration its intentions in the Mindanao area, but the State official was careful not to give details and ruffle Filipino sensibilities on the question of foreign military presence in the context of the Constitution.

A reported difference of opinion between Manila and Washington has stalled the Terms of Reference for the operations of US forces in Mindanao. They could have just adopted the TOR of previous Balikatan joint exercises, but changes apparently have to be made because of “escalating needs.”

The official also said the attendance of State Secretary Colin Powell in ministerial meetings in Phnom Penh of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations underscores the importance that the US places on the concerns of ASEAN.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 19, 2003)

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