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Whatever option President Bush chooses to pursue during the current crisis, he can be sure that the public will be strongly behind him.

As has happened so often before in crisis situations - from Pearl Harbor, through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Iran hostage situation and the Persian Gulf War - Americans are "rallying around the flag." Bush's approval ratings have soared from 51 percent in August to 86 percent in the latest Gallup/CNN polls, the largest jump in Gallup's history, beating his father's old record approval-rating increase of 18 points during the Persian Gulf War.

To give further context to the younger Bush's approval ratings, Franklin Roosevelt's approval ratings jumped from 72 to 84 percent after Pearl Harbor. John Kennedy's went up 13 points during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962. Jimmy Carter's polls rose from 38 to 51 percent at the start of the hostage crisis. Even though it was unsuccessful, fully 71 percent favored the attempt to rescue the Iran hostages in 1980, (only 18 percent opposed the attempt).

Americans favored President Reagan's invasion of Grenada by nearly 2 to 1 and his bombing of Libya by more than 3 to 1. Two patterns consistently stand out: 1) Americans rally around the president in times of international trouble, and 2) Americans favor decisive action in such situations.

Both Gallup and the CBS/New York Times surveys found more than 85 percent of Americans willing to support a military strike in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks. A poll done by the San Jose Mercury News found that even in the liberal San Francisco Bay area, 90 percent of voters would support military action against terrorists and 70 percent were willing to commit American troops to combat, even at the risk of substantial causalities. All this from a metropolitan area where residents voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988 at a higher percentage than the entire state of Massachusetts shows the depth of popular outrage.

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