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Poll: Americans worried about Mideast involvement

Only 38 percent approves of Bush's handling of the crisis

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst
Americans are wary of getting involved in the latest crisis in the Middle East.


Conflicts (general)
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What do Americans want the United States to do in the Middle East? A new poll, conducted Wednesday by the Opinion Research Corp. for CNN, has some answers.

Do Americans want the United States to play an active role in trying to resolve the conflict? The answer is no. Sixty-five percent want the United States to stay out of it.

What about sending U.S. troops as part of an international peacekeeping force on the border between Lebanon and Israel? That sounds better: it's an international force. And its mission is peacekeeping, not war-making. But the public is still divided: 45 percent favor U.S. participation in a peacekeeping force while 42 percent oppose it. (Read the complete poll results -- PDF)

Americans are worried. President Bush said on Tuesday, "In order to be able to deal with this crisis, the world must deal with Hezbollah, with Syria and continue to work to isolate Iran."

It's not clear what the President means by "dealing with Hezbollah," but only 38 percent of the public approves of the way President Bush is handling the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

A solid majority -- 57 percent -- say they sympathize with Israel. Only 4 percent sympathize with Hezbollah. But a lot of Americans -- 39 percent -- say they don't sympathize with one side over the other.

Do Americans believe Israel has gone too far in its military response to Hezbollah's provocations? No. Fewer than a third of Americans (31 percent) feel Israel's military action has been disproportionate. Nearly half say Israel's response has been about right (35 percent) or hasn't gone far enough (14 percent).

Partisan split

Does the public think Israel should continue to take military action until Hezbollah can no longer launch attacks, or do they want Israel to seek a cease-fire as soon as possible? Americans are split: 39 percent support continued Israeli attacks, while 43 percent want a cease-fire.

The split has a lot to do with party. Most Republicans say Israel should continue to attack until the threat is eliminated; most Democrats prefer a cease fire.

What about the evacuation of Americans in Lebanon? Fifty-three percent think the U.S. government is handling it well.

Critics have made a comparison to another evacuation. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called the Lebanon evacuation a "mini-Katrina" while House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California criticized what she called the Bush Administration's "Katrina mentality."

House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, told reporters, "This administration is not good on evacuations, as people in Katrina found out."

But the public sees a big difference. Last September, 63 percent of Americans thought the Katrina evacuation was handled poorly. Only 29 percent feel that way about the Lebanon evacuation.

The telephone poll interviewed 633 American adults. The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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