The Bush effect

Developments in the Mideast may have the global community warming up to Bush -- but he's lost support for the war at home.

By Page Rockwell
Published March 16, 2005 7:15PM (EST)

Is the global community growing more appreciative of President Bush these days? The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that his standing has improved as a result of recent developments in the Middle East, which have caused European nations to undergo "a flurry of reassessment of Bush's policies." Even lefty news magazine Der Spiegel conceded recently that Bush may have been correct to assume that toppling Saddam Hussein would encourage the spread of democracy across the region. (In Salon today, Juan Cole takes on the alleged "Bush effect.")

But if the Bush administration is gaining good will overseas, it's losing ground at home, where the American people are losing faith in the Iraq war. A new joint poll from the Washington Post and ABC News indicates that while a majority of Americans believe the Iraqi people are better off as a result of the U.S. invasion, most Americans now say the war wasn't worth it.

Two years after the administration rained "shock and awe" on Saddam's Baghdad, 53 percent of Americans said the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent said they disapprove of the president's handling of Iraq, and 70 percent found the number of U.S. casualties -- including more than 1,500 deaths -- to be too high a price to pay for spreading freedom.

That's a big drop in the numbers. As the Post points out, on the day that Baghdad fell in April 2003, only 16 percent of Americans thought the war was a mistake, and 81 percent believed the invasion was "the right thing to do."

James B. Steinberg of the Brookings Institution suggested that the change in attitudes reflects Americans' long-standing opposition to using military force to promote democracy: "People just think this is not our mission, that we should not be the democracy policemen. Even though they think they [the Iraqis] are better off, they're leery about the U.S. going out and doing these things."

Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations agreed: "Americans don't like putting Americans in harm's way and fighting wars for humanitarian reasons." And, despite increased international support for the Iraq war, Mead argued that Americans' isolationist tendencies would hinder the Bush administration's longer term designs for the region: "The United States will not be spreading democracy at the point of a bayonet. There really isn't long-term mass support in public opinion for that kind of war."

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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