Mark Blumenthal | July 27, 2007
Topics: 2008 , Iraq , The 2008 Race
Earlier today on Hardball, MSNBC's Chris Matthews had the following exchange with Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign (my transcript below the video):
Matthews: How would you describe [Sen. Clinton's] position in voting to authorize the war in Iraq believing we weren't going to war, that Bush really didn't intend to go to war. Was that naive?
Wolfson: Look, she's taken responsibility for the vote. She's been asked about this...
Mathews: Wouldn't you call that naive to believe...
Matthews: ...that we're not going to war when everybody thought we were going to war? I thought we were going to war.
Wolfson: I guess 80 percent of the country was naive then.
Matthews: They didn't think Bush would take us to war?
Wolfson: I think people were, believed George Bush was going to do what he said he was going to do, which was to try diplomacy. And he didn't.
Matthews: Anybody who didn't think we were going to war, in the months leading up to the war in Iraq, wasn't paying attention.
Did 80% of Americans believe that President Bush would "try diplomacy" in an effort to avoid a war with Iraq?
I checked the Iraq archives at the Polling Report. Most of the questions asked in late 2002 focused on whether and under what conditions Americans would support going to war. However, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey of 1,017 adults conducted November 22-24, 2002 (a month after the vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq), showed that a majority of Americans believed President Bush had "already decided" to invade Iraq:
Which comes closer to your view about President Bush? [Rotate:] Bush has already decided to invade Iraq and has agreed to UN inspections mainly to gain international support for that action. OR, Bush has not yet decided whether to invade Iraq and has agreed to UN inspections mainly to determine if an invasion of Iraq were necessary.
58% - Bush has already decided to invade
38% - Bush has not yet decided whether to invade
4% - No opinion
A bit of context on the timing: The U.S. Senate passed the resolution authorizing the use of military force against Iraq on October 11, 2002 (with Senator Clinton voting in favor). President Bush signed it into law on October 16. Three weeks later, on November 8, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1441 urging Iraq to "comply with its disarmament obligations" or face "serious consequences." Iraq agreed to the resolution on November 13, and under its terms, U.N. weapons inspectors were set to return to Iraq on November 27 after a four year absence to conduct onsite inspections in search of weapons of mass destruction.
Gallup fielded its survey on November 22-24, just days before the return of the U.N. inspectors, a time when one might expect optimism regarding the use of diplomacy to resolve the conflict. Yet even then, 58% of Americans believed the President had "already decided to invade Iraq."
*With apologizes to Frank Newport, who has made "unspinning" questionable assertions about public opinion on Sunday morning talk shows a regular staple of his Gallup Guru blog.