By Claude Salhani
Half of Americans asked said the United States will go to war with Iran “within the next few years,” a Reuters/Ipsos poll indicated.
The poll results stated that American respondents said they were more concerned about Iran as a security threat to the United States than they were last year; however, few said they would be in favour of a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military.
Although, if Iran attacked US military forces first, about 80% said the United States should respond militarily in a full or limited way, the May 17-20 poll said.
Tense relations between Washington and Tehran worsened in May after US President Donald Trump hardened his anti-Iran stance and reimposed all sanctions on Iranian oil exports following his decision a year ago to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran.
Responding to what it said were very credible threats, the United States dispatched a US Navy task force, spearheaded by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. Iran denied that it was planning attacks against US interests.
Nearly half — 49% — of poll respondents said they disapprove of how Trump has handled relations with Iran and 31% said they “strongly” disapprove. Overall, 39% of those asked said they approved of Trump’s policy.
The survey indicated that 51% of those asked said the United States and Iran would go to war within the next few years, up 8 percentage points from a similar poll published last June. In this year’s poll, Democratic and Republican participants were both more likely to see Iran as a threat and say war was likely.
Slightly more than half of the respondents (53%) said they considered Iran as either a “serious” or “imminent” threat, up 6 percentage points from a poll last July. In comparison, 58% of poll participants characterised North Korea as a threat and 51% characterised Russia as a threat.
Despite their concerns, 60% of those asked said the United States should not conduct a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian military, while 12% advocated for striking first.
If Iran attacked, however, 79% of those asked said that the US military should retaliate. The poll said 40% of respondents indicated they favoured a limited response with air strikes and 39% said they favoured a full invasion.
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, although there have been bellicose statements from both sides.
Despite Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement, the poll indicated that 61% of those asked said they supported the 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers to curb Iran’s potential pathway to a nuclear bomb in return for sanctions relief.
Gulf allies and US government officials have said Iran-backed groups were responsible for recent attacks on shipping and pipelines in the Gulf.
Trump has said he would like to negotiate with the leaders of Iran but the country’s president, Hassan Rohani, rejected talks and said “economic war” is being waged against Iran.
What the poll reflects in part is the blame placed on Iran by senior US administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “It seems like it’s quite possible that Iran was behind the attacks,” he said.
Mid- to long-term wariness about the risks of war between the United States and Iran reflects the unease of Americans, beyond the attitude of the administration, about the nature of the regime in Tehran.