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After Tet Polls also Showed Americans Wanted to Send More Troops

Rick Hampson, in USA Today (April 20, 2004):

For three weeks the nation has been battered by the worst news from Iraq since the war began 13 months ago. But despite the shootings, bombings, sieges, ambushes, kidnappings and combat deaths, most Americans still support the war. And an increasing number think it should be stepped up.

Historians say that's a common reaction to attacks on U.S. forces. During the Vietnam War, for instance, polls taken immediately after the Tet offensive in 1968 showed increased support for escalating the conflict. Eventually, however, Tet was taken as a sign that the United States was not winning the war, and public opinion shifted against it.

John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion at Ohio State University, says he thinks the same pattern will prevail in Iraq. "There won't be an abrupt drop in public support," he says, "but over time it will slowly erode." The percentage of people who describe the war as a mistake has risen in the past 12 months from 23% to 42%.

In a speech to the nation last week, Bush said a strong U.S. troop presence is needed "to protect the (interim) government from external aggression and internal subversion." He again said he would send more troops to bolster the 135,000 there if commanding Gen. John Abizaid asks for them: "If that's what he wants, that's what he gets."

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist, says the support for an increasingly difficult war is partly explained by the fact that "unlike Vietnam, you have to look hard to find prominent voices saying 'Get out.' "

"People in the middle are taking a gut check on Iraq, but they're not in a political vacuum," he says. "They look at the president and other leaders and ask, 'Are there any other ideas out there?' "

"Even John Kerry says we should send more troops," Mueller says.