U.S. Iraq Policy Gains Support Among Newspapers

By: Ari Berman

The day after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, daily newspapers in their editorials dramatically shifted their views to support the Bush administration’s hard-line stance on Iraq, a new E&P survey has found.

These results come in stark contrast to those of E&P surveys on Jan. 31 and Jan. 20. Those surveys identified strong opposition to President Bush’s plans for a quick war in the majority of the country’s largest newspapers. The number of newspapers advocating the use of force seemingly has grown faster in the last day or so than it had in the last month.

As recently as a week ago — following weapons inspector Hans Blix’s report to the United Nations and the president’s State of the Union address — more than two-thirds of the nation’s editorial pages resisted hawkish support, calling for the release of more detailed evidence and increased diplomatic maneuvering. The 80-minute presentation by Powell seems to have silenced many of the critics.

While newspapers unanimously praised Powell and criticized Saddam Hussein, they still disagreed over how to act, and when. The latest E&P survey of 40 of the top 50 newspapers (by circulation), found that while three groups — very pro-war, cautiously pro-war, and war skeptics — remain, the size of each indicates shifting levels of support for the administration’s policy on Iraq.

A once-tiny hawkish faction has grown to include 15 newspapers, three times as many as the five identified in the Jan. 31 E&P survey.

The Dallas Morning News strongly reflected the sentiment behind calls for quick force: “The U.S. Secretary of State did everything but perform cornea transplants on the countries that still claim to see no reason for forcibly disarming Iraq.”

Other surveyed newspapers shifting from a hesitant to a ready-for-war stance included The Washington Post, The Arizona Republic in Phoenix, The Oregonian in Portland, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and The Denver Post.

The cautiously pro-war camp expanded to 14 from 11 members, who generally advocated the forceful overthrow of Hussein while contending that maximal international support and preparation still should be prerequisites for any invasion.

“The go-it-alone ultimatum is one the U.S. and the international community would do well to avoid — and one that Powell’s much-needed presentation should help head off,” USA Today wrote. The Miami Herald praised Powell’s presentation for laying the groundwork for war, while saying that any attack should be a last resort.

Others in the cautiously pro-war camp — such as Newsday in Melville, N.Y., the Detroit Free Press, and The Sacramento (Calif.) Bee — called for a second U.N. resolution to authorize the use of force. Some previous supporters of U.N. weapons inspectors, such as The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., now dismiss their effectiveness.

Even the shrinking number of war skeptics, down to 11 in this survey from 29 in the last one, seemed unsure of how to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The Boston Globe still hoped for either a coup or Hussein’s exile. The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch all advised the president to let diplomacy work. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, The Seattle Times, and The Hartford (Conn.) Courant all echoed France’s proposal, calling for the return of a beefed-up weapons-inspection team.

The surprisingly vocal dissenters at The Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif., claimed Powell’s case still did not justify a pre-emptive attack. The Register argued that too many unanswered questions need tackling, including whether terrorism, chemical-and-biological-weapon attacks, and other world problems such as in North Korea might increase due to this use of U.S. force.

Bridging the gap between those that oppose further inspections but still fear the consequences of all-out war, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News called for precision air strikes — such as those used to patrol the already-existing Iraqi no-fly zones — on suspected weapons facilities.

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