A narrow majority of Americans favor immediate use of force against Iraq if it fails to withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15, even though most believe that the action will have dire consequences, including terrorist killings of civilians in the United States, according to a new survey.
A 51%-42% majority favor quick military action, and 65% say that war would cause terrorists to target American citizens. Seventy-seven percent also said that they expect Iraq to respond with chemical weapons if war occurs.
Those are some of the results of the Times Mirror News Interest Index, a monthly survey of public response to the news sponsored by Times Mirror Co., parent company of the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers.
The public remains riveted to the story of the Persian Gulf, with 59% saying that they are following developments “very closely,” and 66% saying that they have given a great deal of thought to the question of using military force against Iraq.
All other news seemed to pale, with 36% closely monitoring news of the economy, 20% the resignation of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and 15% the resignation of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Only 13% of those interviewed said that they closely followed the controversy over whether scholarships could be set aside for minorities, 9% the “Keating Five” investigation, 9% the sale of MCA to Matsushita Corp. of Japan and 6% the choice of William J. Bennett as chairman of the Republican National Committee--a job he later rejected.
Asked what they consider the single best reason for using military force against Iraq, the top rationale--listed by 38%--was deterring aggression. Second was removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power--17%.
Only 3% listed removing the Iraqi nuclear threat. In contrast, 8% cited as a justification for war the restoration of the government of Kuwait, and 6% cited protecting the oil supply.
Other reasons listed included asserting American authority (4%), making the Middle East stable (2%), protecting Israel (1%) and removing the threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons (1%).
If combat occurs, 57% of those surveyed said that pools of reporters should be allowed to accompany troops into battle zones, while 34% said that the press should be kept away, as they were in the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
Forty-two percent said that they had heard too little about the views of Americans who oppose sending U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf, compared with 31% who thought they had heard the right amount.
Much of what people know of the gulf crisis they are getting from television. Eighty-two percent said that they are getting most of their news about the crisis from TV; 40% said newspapers; 15% radio, and 4% magazines. Several respondents gave multiple answers.
Americans missed some news altogether. For example, only 10% could identify John Major as the new British prime minister.