Monday, July 7, 2008

U.S. and Iran Showdown

This week’s poll concerning U.S. foreign policy toward Iran suggests that a majority of North Carolinians harbor unfavorable views toward Tehran. 65% of respondents view Iran as a threat to U.S. national security and 71% believe it is likely that Iran would use nuclear weapons to destroy U.S. interests at home and abroad.

Considering the recent developments over the existence of Iran’s nuclear program, these numbers suggest that a majority of North Carolinians perceive hostile intentions on the part of Tehran. Of course, Israel also plays a major role in this diplomatic showdown. According to the poll, a majority of respondents believe the U.S. has an obligation to play a pivotal role in the region. 51% believe the U.S. should protect Israel against Iranian threats “at all costs” and 78% of respondents believe it is likely that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel.

Last winter, the Bush administration suffered a diplomatic setback when a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reported that Iran halted its nuclear program almost four years ago. Vice President Cheney has repeatedly supported air strikes against Tehran, but the NIE seriously hurt the ability of Washington hawks to press for war against Iran. While the report did confirm that Iran possessed a nuclear weapons program in the early part of the decade, the recent war in Iraq coupled with the 2007 NIE made it difficult for administration officials to heighten fears in the U.S. and the international community over Iran’s intentions. Recently, Israeli leaders pressed U.S. decision-makers to act against the threat of a Iranian nuclear attack against Israel forcing Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to travel to Israel in an effort to convince Israeli officials to hold back on possible air strikes against suspected nuclear weapons facilities in Iran. As some have noted it would be difficult for Israel’s military to act unilaterally against perceived Iranian threats. Admiral Mullen and Defense Secretary Gates are concerned that tensions between Israel and Iran could lead to desperate action which could touch off a regional war leaving the U.S. in a huge predicament within the Middle East.

Despite the NIE report, the poll shows that a majority of North Carolinians do not support Iran’s development of a nuclear program used exclusively for civilian purposes and 54% believe the U.S. should attempt to counter Iran’s influence in the region. Moreover, 54% believe the U.S. should continue to play an active political role in the Middle East. As expected, Republican respondents tend to be slightly more hawkish then their Democrat counterparts… but not by much.

More troubling is the fact that 63% of respondents believe that Iran, an overwhelmingly Shia nation has links with Al-Qaeda, a Sunni-based terrorist organization. When asked if Iran should become the next front in the War on Terror, North Carolinians appear divided with numbers hovering around 34%.

Post by Jode Willingham, PPP Summer Fellow

Full results here.

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