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Americans optimistic on Iraq, wary about use of force, poll finds

WASHINGTON—Americans are optimistic about the effects of Iraq's defeat but don't support the quick use of force to topple other dictatorships, according to a poll to be released on Tuesday.

By a margin of almost 4-to-1, respondents agreed that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq until "a government has been elected and there are laws that protect human rights." Most estimated that establishing a stable government would take at least two years.

A majority expects that Iran and Syria will be less likely to develop weapons of mass destruction as a consequence of the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The California-based polling firm Knowledge Networks conducted the poll of 865 respondents between April 18 and 22 for the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The poll showed a public committed to a substantial U.S. force in Iraq but in favor of a greater U.N. role in reconstruction.

A majority was wary about the use of force, or even pressure, outside Iraq. By a 2-to-1 margin, those polled said the United States should not put greater pressure on Middle East countries to become more democratic.

Once Iraq is stabilized, 67 percent favored a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia.

According to the poll, 57 percent disagreed with a statement that the United States "has the right and even the responsibility to overthrow dictatorships." And 61 percent said U.S. leaders "should not feel more free to use force without U.N. authorization."

By a margin of 71 percent to 21 percent, respondents opposed U.S. military intervention to overthrow the government of Syria.

"The war has given U.S. policies sort of a halo effect, but this is a compartmentalized euphoria," said Steve Kull, the director of the program at the University of Maryland. "There's no evidence of fundamental change in views on what America's role should be."

While two-thirds viewed U.S. dominance in the world positively, three-quarters of those polled supported multilateral efforts over go-it-alone approaches to solving international problems.

Kull said he was struck by the depth of the commitment to a large U.S. role in rebuilding Iraq.

Of those polled, only a quarter agreed with the statement that "we shouldn't spend money on rebuilding Iraq when we have so many problems here at home." Three-quarters said it would be "unwise and immoral to overthrow the government of Iraq and then just leave."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.