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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Growing Sense of Public Support in U.S. for American-Led Invasion of Iraq

Aired March 17, 2003 - 10:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: There appears to be growing sense of public support in the U.S. for an American-led invasion of Iraq, and at least that's feeling expressed now in the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, which was released over the weekend, and our Bill Schneider is joining us now with the details and the analysis on that poll.
Good morning, Bill. Lots to talk about there, no doubt.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there is. We've seen a lot of pictures of rallies, but the fact is, Americans are now rallying behind President Bush. Just since the beginning of March, the number of Americans who favor an invasion of Iraq with U.S. ground troops has jumped from 59 to 64 percent. That 64 is the highest level of public support since just after the 9/11 attacks a year and a half ago. In other words, the public is saying, let's roll.

HARRIS: Now, those numbers have been affected one way or another by the question of whether or not U.N. actually sanctions any movement of U.S. troops in the region. What do the numbers tell about that?

SCHNEIDER: What they tell us is the idea of not putting this to a vote at all is least favorite option of the American people. Obviously, if the U.N. supported a new resolution, overwhelmingly Americans would favor going in, and they would also by a majority favor going in if the U.N. vote was rejected. Americans are split about the idea of going in if there is no vote at all. To the public, a U.N. vote means we tried. No U.N. vote means we gave up.

Now, there is a problem with asking for a resolution and going in even if it's rejected. That would violate the U.N. charter, and it would be illegal under international law. Suppose we do what we are planning to do, go to war without asking for U.N. vote? Has that every happened? Sure, it happens all of the time. There was no U.N. vote to authorize the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the British war in the Falklands, and most recently, the NATO war in Kosovo. I think the rule is, it's much better to ignore the U.N., which we have apparently chosen to do, than to defy the U.N.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Curious to see what the poll numbers look like next time around now that that has happened.

So what do numbers say about the U.S. public support of the U.N.? I've got to think based upon those number, the U.S. can't have very much confidence right now in the U.S. SCHNEIDER: Not at all. U.S. support, American public support for the U.N. has taken a big hit. As recently as January, the U.N. thought the U.N. was doing a good job, 50 to 42 percept. But look at the view of the U.N. now, 58 percent negative.

Gallup has been asking this question since 1953. This the worst rating, the worst, that the U.N. has gotten in 50 years. And before we jump to conclusion that it's Republicans and angry radio talk show hosts dumping on U.N., I have some news, the U.N. took its biggest hit among Democrats. The number of Democrats who think the U.N. is doing a lousy job jumped by 30 points since January.

HARRIS: Now that is very interesting. Does that say anything at all about the way the administration is making the case, and that they've actually made it successfully, even with perhaps those that may be the most skeptical of the administration?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. This a partisan issue, but it's not quite Democrat on one side, Republicans on the other. Republicans almost unanimously support the option of an invasion. Democrats are actually split, which means they don't speak with one voice.

HARRIS: Speaking of the case that the administration has been making, it's been criticized that the administration has been trying to go out too far and trying to spread out too much in making the case against the war on terror, and saying that there has been some connections between Saddam Hussein and what happened here on 9/11. What do the numbers say about that?

SCHNEIDER: Well, let's listen, to what the president said in his news conference on March 6th -- "September 11th should say to the American people that we are now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could be deployed here at home. In other words, the president's argument for war is, if Saddam Hussein is not disarmed, he will launch another 9/11. That's why Americans now support something they've never supported, or even contemplated, in the past, which is a preemptive war.

Now, 88 percent of Americans agree with the president and believe Saddam Hussein supports terrorist groups that have plans to attack the United States. That's the principle reason why Americans support an invasion. But in fact, 51 percent believe Saddam Hussein was himself personally involved in 9/11.

Leon, I think bottom line is for Americans, this war is all about 9/11.

HARRIS: That's very interesting, because there have been -- there are no shortage of voices who are saying there is no connection, or there has been no proven connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11th, and yet the public still believes that.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. The administration has made two points: There are ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, some Al Qaeda presence in Iraq, and the argument that I just quoted, the president says if we don't disarm him, there will be another September 11th, but no clear evidence that he was personally tied to September 11th.

Nevertheless, Americans believe it. They probably believe it, because Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda share the same goal. They want to see, both of them, want to see Americans dead.

HARRIS: Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Appreciate that, as always.

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