Americans Favor Exile Over War

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

In January, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he felt an agreement sending Saddam Hussein into exile in return for a U.S. pledge not to invade Iraq would be a "fair trade." After meeting with leading allies Sunday in the Azores, President Bush said Saddam could leave the country if he's interested in peace, but "the decision is his [Saddam's] to make." Several Arab leaders say they have discussed the possibility of Saddam's exile with Saddam himself. But despite the rhetoric, Saddam has publicly said that he will not accept exile as an option, and made it clear that he plans to die in Iraq.

Results from a January Gallup Poll* indicate that most Americans would like nothing better than to see Saddam leave Iraq and never look back. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Saddam's exile would be especially well-received by those who are opposed to the United States taking military action to remove him from power.

A majority of Americans (62%) said they approve of allowing Saddam to live in exile for the rest of his life and avoid prosecution for any action he took as leader of Iraq, providing he steps down peacefully and war is avoided. Slightly more than a third of the American public (35%) disapproved of this proposal.

Democrats are slightly more likely than Republicans to have said they approve of exile as an option to avoid war -- 66% to 57%. A corresponding margin exists with regard to political ideology: 65% of liberals approved of a proposed exile for Saddam, compared to 57% of conservatives.

Three in four Americans with a postgraduate education, one of the subgroups most opposed to military action against Iraq, favored allowing Saddam's exile. This compares with just 60% of Americans at all other education levels.

Policy Variables

The idea of Saddam going into exile in order to avoid a U.S. war with Iraq is especially popular among those opposed to invading Iraq in general. Roughly 7 in 10 Americans (71%) who oppose invasion said they approve of Saddam going into exile. Among those who favor invading Iraq, slightly more than half (56%) favored exile as an alternative to war.

Saddam's exile is also a more popular idea among those who think Bush has not made a convincing case for war with Iraq, and among those who said they trust the United Nations more than they trust Bush on how to handle Iraq.

Bottom Line

While the likelihood of Saddam agreeing to go into exile is slim, many participants and observers of the situation in Iraq have offered it as an option. Many Americans, especially those opposed to the United States invading Iraq, support the idea regardless of its improbability.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 23-25, 2003. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%.

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