Poll: US Against Retaliatory Attack

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The American public usually rallies behind the government after military strikes retaliating for terrorism, but the picture is a bit different when they are asked about such an action beforehand.

More than half of Americans said they oppose launching retaliatory attacks against countries proven to have direct links to terrorist acts, says an Associated Press poll. Men were about evenly split on the question, women opposed by almost 2-to-1.

The United States launched missile attacks against sites in Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 after two U.S. embassies in East Africa were attacked, and polls indicated the public backed the action by more than 4-to-1. Four men charged in the deadly bombings of the U.S. embassies are now on trial in New York.

An AP poll taken Feb. 7 through Feb. 11 suggests people are a bit more hesitant about a retaliatory strike that could take place in the future.

``I'm really against launching an attack,'' said Della Coe, a 55-year-old Republican from the Dallas area. ``A terrorist act is more the act of a smaller group. The ones who suffer when we retaliate are generally not the ones who carried out the terrorism, but children and family members.''

After the October attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, many politicians called for a response. GOP vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney called for ``swift retaliation'' if the attackers could be identified. Presidential candidate George W. Bush said there should be ``consequences.''

Republicans were evenly split on the question of retaliation in the poll conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa.

Democrats opposed retaliatory attacks by almost 2-to-1 and just over half of independents opposed launching an attack, while a third favored such an action.

Other findings in the poll:

—Almost three-fourths in the poll said they have at least some confidence in President Bush on the issue of national security.

—Americans by a 2-1 margin backed bringing U.S. troops home from Bosnia.

—More supported a proposed missile defense system than opposed it, by 48 percent to 38 percent. When asked whether they favored development of a system if it broke an existing treaty, backing for the plan dropped to three in 10 and opposition increased.

The poll of 1,015 adults has an error margin of 3 percentage points.

After facing questions during the campaign about his abilities to handle national security, Bush has won at least some confidence from a solid majority.

``I have a lot of confidence in him,'' said Kelly Sovine, a 29-year-old mother of two from Indian Mills, W. Va. ``He's appointed very good people under him. He's doing a good job.''

Bush chose Colin Powell, the popular former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Persian Gulf War, to be secretary of state, and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a 68-year-old veteran of Republican administrations going back to the Nixon era, to reclaim his old job of defense secretary. Cheney, who headed the Defense Department during the Gulf War, is vice president.

A third said they have a lot of confidence in Bush on national security, and men were far more likely than women to feel that way, by 42 percent to 26 percent. Three-fourths of Republicans and a fourth of independents said they had a lot of confidence in Bush on that issue.

The public still has questions about some proposals by the Bush administration, including the suggested $60 billion that the missile defense system could cost.

``I'm not real sure I'm for the missile defense system,'' said Robert Williams, a 54-year-old foreman of a water company from Hartly, Del. ``Things in the world are a bit calmer, the Cold War is over. ... To spend all the bucks on the missile defense system is not appropriate.''

The administration's plans to build the system have raised concerns overseas, notably in Russia. A national missile defense is outlawed by a 1972 U.S.-Soviet treaty, which is based on the theory that being exposed to deadly retaliation deters an aggressor from launching an attack.

The administration wants the treaty, reached at the height of the Cold War, changed.