VOICE OF AMERICA
February 19, 1998
Speaking at the White House, President Clinton warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein not to mistake the previous day's town hall meeting for a lack of American resolve. NewsHour regulars are joined by Professor Robert Dallek of Boston University in a discussion on the role of public opinion in the Iraq crisis and military conflicts of the past.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
February 18, 1998
Four diplomatic veterans discuss the possibility of an attack on Iraq.
February 17, 1998
Analysis of the U.S. military arsenal in the Middle East.
February 16, 1998
How significant a threat does Saddam Hussein's country really pose?
February 11, 1998
Ambassador Richardson discusses the ongoing crisis with Iraq.
February 10, 1998
Members of Congress discuss the U.S. government's support of military action against Iraq.
February 9, 1998
Regional commentators give local perspectives on the growing crisis with Iraq.
February 4, 1998
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tries to marshal support for a possible attack on Iraq.
January 30, 1998
The U.S. tries rallying support for military action against Iraq.
January 14, 1998
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, defends his country's actions.
January 13, 1998
Amb. Butler discusses the latest disagreement with Iraq.
December 18, 1997
Amb. Butler discusses Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. inspections.
December 1, 1997
Margaret Warner leads a discussion on the proposals to ease the impact of international sanctions on Iraq.
November 25, 1997
Is Saddam Hussein illegally hiding weapons throughout Iraq?
What's the best way to deal with Iraq?
November 20, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson on the possible resolution of the Iraq crisis.
November 17, 1997
Arab perspectives on the Iraqi crisis.
November 14, 1997
Sandy Berger the National Security Adviser, discusses the Iraqi crisis.
November 13, 1997
Newsmaker interview with Deputy PM Aziz who defends his country's expulsion of U.N. weapons inspectors.
November 12, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson discusses the Security Council's vote to impose stricter sanctions on Iraq.
November 11, 1997
Four foreign policy experts debate how best to deal with Saddam Hussein.
November 10, 1997
Defense Sec. Cohen discusses the situation with Iraq.
November 6, 1997
The chief U.N. arms inspector discusses Saddam's latest moves.
November 3, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson discusses tensions between the U.S. and Iraq.
October 9, 1997
Sec. Cohen issues a stern warning to Saddam Hussein.
Online Forum: 1996:
The plight of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East.
PHIL PONCE: We get it from NewsHour regulars Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Journalist and Author Haynes Johnson. Joining them tonight is Robert Dalek, professor of history at Boston University; he's written extensively on Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Franklin Roosevelt. Welcome all. Andy, first of all, what do recent polls show about how the public feels about the use of force versus sanctions and diplomacy?
Mr. Kohut: "As many say, 54 percent say sanctions, 41 percent say the use of force in the latest Gallup Poll."
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, when the public is asked what are their preferences, what do they think should be done, and asked to choose between peace and measures of diplomacy or sanctions, they're divided. As many say, 54 percent say sanctions, 41 percent say the use of force in the latest Gallup Poll. That's about what the public said in January of '91 just before the start of the Gulf War. As long as the diplomatic and economic options are in play, the public will gravitate to that. I think the more important question is: How much public acceptance is there if force is used?
PHIL PONCE: And what do the polls show there?
ANDREW KOHUT: There the polls show a historic level of support--76 percent this week in the Gallup Poll said they would support the use of air attacks, and 19 percent opposed, 60 percent said they would even support the use of ground force. Now, 36 percent oppose the use of ground force. That's--that is a very sizeable minority. And you really do need a super majority to successfully sustain public support for war. But these are big numbers in comparative terms.
PHIL PONCE: And these numbers are--reflect the general population, not just those people who are inclined towards military action? This is the general population?
ANDREW KOHUT: This is everyone, and when we compare it to other recent uses of force, it's double and triple the levels of support for the use of force in Bosnia--
PHIL PONCE: Walk us through the figures in those previous engagements.
ANDREW KOHUT: In Bosnia, in the fall of 1995, only 32 percent favored the use of force there because the American public doesn't like peacekeeping, at least it's divided about peacekeeping. Even in Haiti--near our own shores--nation building, 43 percent favored, 50 percent opposed. And the Gulf War, itself, back in January of '91, the Pew survey found 55 percent favoring, 38 percent opposed, which is lower than the percentages we now see, which is an indication and, in a sense, support for the Gulf War, an attack on Iraq, has been pre-sold.
The public goes back to its views about Saddam Hussein, the importance of controlling weapons of mass destruction, protecting the world's energy supply, and there is more support for this use of force than the polls have shown for sometime, Columbus, Ohio, notwithstanding.
PHIL PONCE: And in Vietnam, what--that was one where obviously the issue of public support was key. What do the polls show--
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, in Vietnam it's a little tricky because in 1963 and 1964, which would have been the period prior to the build-up, there weren't many polls. But in 1965, the first readings found kind of a divided view, 50 percent favoring the use of force, 28 percent thinking it wasn't a good idea that we're sending a lot of troops to Vietnam. What's key is that 22 percent--not shown on the slide--said they didn't know because this wasn't an issue that was debated. We got into that war without much debate, purposefully. This was before it was recognized that you really do need public support to withstand a military effort.
PHIL PONCE: And finally, reaching back to World War II--
ANDREW KOHUT: Reaching back to World War II, we were at 26 percent in November of 1941, favoring U.S. entry into World War II, even though the American public recognized the great threat that the axis powers had--Germany and Japan--had on the United States, particularly if England were defeated. The American public was very reluctant to enter that war. This was a different public. It wasn't an internationalist public. This was a different world.
PHIL PONCE: Doris, what is your sense of the public mood at other times when the United States has had to take, or chosen to take military action?
Public opinion and war throughout American history.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, there's two very different stories that I think are provided by World War II and Vietnam. While it's true, as Andy says, that the majority of the public did not want in World War II right prior to the war, to use force, nonetheless, Roosevelt used his leadership from 1937 on really to begin to build and nurse public opinion to understand that preparedness was the first step if we were going to do something about the situation in Europe.
He gave a quarantine, the aggressor speech, in 1937, and it produced such an outroar among the public at large and in the Congress that he said it's a terrible thing when one tries to lead and looks over one's shoulder and sees nobody there. And he then pulled back and realized that it was his responsibility to educate, to shape, to move public opinion. And he did so, despite those figures in the sense that he finally got the public to understand the need for a peacetime draft; he got the public to accept lend-lease by a majority; he had the destroyer deal worked. America was mobilized. Its factories were working. Its soldiers were being trained even before Pearl Harbor.
It was an extraordinary example of successful leadership, of public opinion. In contrast, when Lyndon Johnson faced his fatal decision in 1965 to escalate the war in Vietnam and really send those ground troops in, he didn't want to go to the public and make a big debate; he wanted that great society he loved so much to keep alive and feared he would lose it as a result of the war. So it was almost like an undeclared war. He didn't declare a state of emergency.
He didn't ask for the reserves to be mobilized. He simply thought he could do it with his back hand. And, as a result, even though those figures show that the people supported the use of force as the war dragged on year after year after year. Nobody believed after a while his word, his trust, his credibility that there would be a limited war over soon, at the end of the tunnel it would come. So when the Tet Offensive seemed to suggest we weren't doing as well as we thought, it completely exploded. So you needed that support, especially if the war goes on for a period of time.
PHIL PONCE: Haynes, how much of the dialogue that we're seeing now--particularly the reaction among some audience members in Columbus--has to do with the shadow of Vietnam?
HAYNES JOHNSON: I think we've had 23 years since that helicopter lifted off the American embassy in Saigon. That's a quarter of a century. And that has so scarred the country, so deep, forget the polls for a minute, and just--it's deep in the bone of the country, and I think the commitment of ground forces is something that the military, itself, ever since then has worried about. We haven't even had support among the joint chiefs for major land forces.
Yes, the Gulf War, but it was a war which could be over very quickly, without the--look at Somalia, is a good example. We sent troops to Somalia. One day eighteen died, we were out of there; the Secretary of Defense was gone. I think the imprint of Vietnam cannot be exaggerated on the culture and the psyche of the country, particularly those who are now part of the post Vietnam generation. It either didn't serve in the military, never did at all. We have an all volunteer force, or like Bill Clinton protested against the war of his own country.
PHIL PONCE: Robert.
Mr. Dallek: "Behind these numbers...is a basic fear that you get into war, and it's going to become a quagmire."
ROBERT DALLEK: Oh, I couldn't agree more. I think Haynes is absolutely right. Johnson used to say Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, and I think it's still with us. People are so skeptical about getting into a conflict of this sort, which could be a quagmire of a sort. We did this in 1991, and here we are again confronting this issue of dealing with Saddam Hussein. People, I think, are worried. Behind these numbers, I think, is a basic fear that you get into war, and it's going to become a quagmire. Of course, lots of questions have been raised about what the bombing is going to do. We went through this in Vietnam--bomb, bomb, more bombing. And it never seemed to resolve the issue.
PHIL PONCE: Doris, prior to Vietnam, were there any instances where public officials, national leaders would go before the public, a group, and be subject to cat calls, jeering, heckling, that sort of thing, or is it that something that's--
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, certainly not that we saw on national television in quite the same way. I mean, it's an extraordinary sense in which public opinions and media see with the leaders of our country, it's almost like their living in bed with public opinion now in both a good and a bad sense. I mean, there's no question that a war in a democracy requires, as Roosevelt understood, the support of the people because you're asking people to send their sons and daughters, you're asking them to mobilize the resources of the nation, to put their focus on a war, so in that sense public opinion is a good thing.
But if leaders begin to worry on a daily basis about taking the pulse of the nation through these polls, if they begin to have these kinds of debates where the television shows and seems to over-emphasize the dissent that may not be as strong as it seems, I think it's a real problem for our country. This is one of those cases where leaders have to make the decision, but their real requirement is they have to educate the country to the objectives and do it well. Clinton better not wait too long before he goes to the public and explains more fully what our objectives are and what he hopes to accomplish.
PHIL PONCE: Haynes.
Mr. Johnson: "In the age of air war and missiles it seems sanitary, it seems somehow bloodless. It's not bloodless."
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, it's very useful to think back to the Franklin Roosevelt experience because here today everyone said Hitler was evil; we had to go to war and the war--we are literally blowing up the world, and we were threatened. And even then only 26 percent--when the war started--favored us going in. But that has changed so dramatically today. I mean, that's the--and the kind of leadership--Churchill gave that great speech--I ask you to have only blood, toil, tears, and sweat--nothing that was going to be easy. And I think that's one of the tests of leadership too, to lay out very clearly what the consequences may be if you commit forces. In the age of air war and missiles it seems sanitary, it seems somehow bloodless. It's not bloodless.
PHIL PONCE: Is that why, Andy, that recent figures show that, initially speaking, the public seems more inclined to support military action than in the past?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, I have a different point of view. I mean, I think that people remember the last war, and I think we have put Vietnam behind us. If you look at the way the public feels about the American military, the dividing line is before the Gulf War, after the Gulf War, I think that what's going on here--to get real support, strong support, you need the American public to feel that this is in our national interest. And when we ask the public, what are our top national priorities, they say controlling weapons of mass destruction; they say protecting our energy supply; and they say protecting our jobs.
Now, if Saddam Hussein was somehow threatening jobs in Ohio, we'd really be in trouble. We have very, very strong support based on people's conceptual view of what America's foreign policy should be. So, again, my view is just quite different about how much of the Vietnam legacy exists.
PHIL PONCE: Let me follow up with the research aspect, Andy, and that is, do you see any recurring pattern as far as the ebb and flow of public opinion during the conflict?
ANDREW KOHUT: I think what you see if you took--we had another slide here showing what would reaction be to the use of force once it occurs, we'd see that we never got--we never had strong support and the administration has never had support for Bosnia, even after the troops were there, and so that was also the case in Haiti, because the public had not signed onto the mission. The significant thing here is that the American public agrees conceptually with the mission, and that was not the case in Bosnia; it's not the case in Haiti; and ultimately it wasn't the case in Vietnam, because it was fuzzy and the domino theory didn't compel people long enough.
ROBERT DALLEK: I think what the public remembers was the terrible divisiveness in this country, and that episode yesterday in Ohio, what it brought back to mind was the vehemence of protest that existed during that Vietnam War, and the anguish which can occur again if this is a long war, by which I mean we start bombing and you bomb for days on end, and it goes on for several months, questions are going to be asked. The center's going to be evident in this country, and it's going to make for a painful division in the society, and I think people remember that as part and parcel of the whole Vietnam experience, and they don't want to repeat it.
ANDREW KOHUT: I don't think college campuses are good places to express or hold forums of public opinion. Part of the anti-war protest movement still is part of the culture of colleges, but the culture of colleges doesn't speak broadly to the culture of America, I guess is my point.
Ms. Kearns Goodwin: "I'm not sure that the actual objectives are clear in people's minds as to what we're going to do when we get there and what's going to allow us to come out and feel successful."
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: But, you know, Andy, it seems to me that what was even more interesting than those few people who screamed yesterday at that town hall were the kinds of probing questions that almost everybody asked, which suggest that even if people agree that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, and that's where I think that support is coming from, I'm not sure that the actual objectives are clear in people's minds as to what we're going to do when we get there and what's going to allow us to come out and feel successful. I know how Clinton has explained it, but those questions were very probing yesterday from everybody, not just those that were screaming.
PHIL PONCE: Haynes, final comment.
HAYNES JOHNSON: And they really were, and they kept asking you the question, what next, and then what, and then what and then what, and that's the problem with wars, what happens next; how do we get into this process, and when casualties start to come in, if they do, which inevitably they will?
PHIL PONCE: Well, thank you all. We'll have to leave it there for now.