September 15, 2003, Monday Late Edition - Final
Section A Page 1 Column 4 Desk: National Desk Length:1746 words
Across the U.S., Concern Grows About the Course of War in Iraq
By ADAM NAGOURNEY; Jo Napolitano, Chris Dixon, Duwayne Escobedoand Mindy Sink contributed to this article.
OMAHA, Sept. 14
Becky Bunting, a 45-year-old job recruiter, was a big supporter ofthe invasion of Iraq and applauded the fall of Baghdad and PresidentBush's execution of the war. But these days, Mrs. Bunting is growingconcerned about what is taking place there, unhappy with the mountingcosts, disturbed by the casualties and, most of all, wondering how itis all going to end.
''I am very worried about it,'' Mrs. Bunting, a Republican, saidtoday as she lounged in the crisp September sun in the Old Marketdistrict here. ''I have two brothers in the Navy. I think there aregoing to be a lot more casualties. I think we are in there for thelong haul.
''I believe we did the right thing,'' she said. ''But I don't seea winning situation here for anybody.''
The sentiments expressed by Mrs. Bunting today were hardlyunusual.
A week after President Bush's speech seeking to rally support forthe campaign in Iraq, the nation appears increasingly anxious aboutthe war effort and worried that the United States may be trapped inan adventure from which there is no evident exit, according tointerviews during the last five days with Americans across thenation, historians, social scientists and pollsters.
Some people went so far as to suggest a comparison with an earliermilitary action that had an unhappy history: the war in Vietnam.
There is no sign that Americans have turned from their originalsupport of what many describe as the object of the invasion: removingSaddam Hussein from power and lessening the threat of terroristattacks at home. And support for Mr. Bush remains relatively strong,if not as strong as it was even a month ago, according to pollsters.
But there is, by many measures, a gnawing unease about the courseof this mission and a realization that the conflict will be deadlier,more expensive and longer-lasting than Mr. Bush signaled when helanded on an aircraft carrier off San Diego on May 1 to celebrate thefall of Saddam Hussein. In the most recent evidence of that, aWashington Post/ABC News poll published today found a nine-point jumpin the last three weeks, to 46 percent, in the number of Americanswho disapprove of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy, while the number whoexpressed support for the policy slipped to 52 percent from 56percent.
''I think it's going to go on forever,'' said Mike Gallagher, 34,an independent voter from Chicago. ''The U.S. opened a can of wormsthat should have never been opened in the first place.''
In Pensacola, Fla., Betty Enfinger, 59, a Republican, said: ''Iknew it was not going to be easy. Bush seemed to have a good gameplan for the war. But things have gone very, very poorly after thewar.''
Here in Omaha, Paul McGill, 39, an independent, said he supportedthe war, but added tersely: ''I'd like to see the reins handed over.I would like to see an exit strategy -- mapped out in detail.''
At that, his wife, Virginia, who did not support the war, sighed.''I think we are locked in, and I don't see any way out,'' she said.
Several pollsters said that shifts in public mood could prove tobe transitory in an era of abrupt swings in opinion and might havebeen accelerated by Mr. Bush's call last Sunday for $87 billion tofinance the war effort. Indeed, the mood could certainly change againif, say, images of random shootings in Baghdad are overtaken by thecapture of Saddam Hussein or the recovery of unconventional weapons.
Despite any signs of apprehension, support for the war stillremains solid. Sandra Johnson, 50, of Oak Creek, Colo., anindependent who voted for Bush, said she was not surprised by howlong it was taking. ''Things just don't happen that quickly,'' shesaid. ''They can't get in and accomplish all that and get out, ashistory has dictated in other wars.''
Still, the pollsters said these recent indications of concerncould be the leading edge of a reassessment of a war that onceenjoyed major support and of a new round of questioning whether itwas worth the cost and casualties. Such a development could proveproblematic for President Bush going into an election year.
''It's my impression that the public is in the midst of a changeof mind,'' said Andrew M. Greeley, a prominent Catholic sociologistwith the National Opinion Research Center at the University ofChicago. ''They still support in general the Iraqi war. But theydon't believe the Iraqi war is central to the war on terror, and theyare finally really not sure that they are ever going to get out ofIraq.''
Richard N. Smith, a Republican political historian and director ofthe Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas,said of the Bush administration: ''My sense is that they may bepaying a price, short term or not, about not being more explicitabout the possible costs and long-term commitments that, quote,rebuilding, unquote, Iraq would necessarily require. They needed todo a much better job of explaining what the $87 billion is for. Ithink it shocked people.''
Against this backdrop, there is evidence that the steps Mr. Bushtook a week ago to try to arrest any decline in support for the war-- delivering a prime-time speech and requesting $87 billion to payfor its aftermath -- might not have had the desired effect. ThePost/ABC News poll also found that 6 out of 10 Americans did notsupport the proposal. The poll surveyed 1,104 adults from Sept. 10through Sept. 13, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minusthree percentage points.
Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who gathered new dataafter Mr. Bush's speech, said this might prove to be the first time amajor address by Mr. Bush had not turned the public's mood towardhim.
''People are very disturbed,'' Mr. Greenberg said. ''This was nota confidence-building speech.''
The developments have clear implications for the presidentialrace. The candidates have been attacking the war effort with languagethat would have been unthinkable even two weeks ago.
In Indianola, Iowa, on Saturday night, at a steak fry attended bymost of the Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Bob Graham ofFlorida invoked the image of Vietnam by using a word, quagmire, thathas become synonymous with that long and ultimately losing struggle.
''What we have is a quagmire which today is costing every American$1 billion a week,'' he said to cheers.
Historians and sociologists said comparisons with Vietnam wereoverblown, at least for now. For one thing, that conflict was farlonger and deadlier: the Iraq war has produced fewer than a hundredthof the combat deaths of Vietnam. For another, there has been noevidence of the breakdown of confidence in the government that wasintertwined with opposition to Vietnam.
''You hear a lot of sentiments that this could turn into Vietnamif not handled correctly,'' said Mark Penn, who was a pollster forBill Clinton in the White House and is now working for thepresidential campaign of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. ''But we're notin the same mood as we were in the 60's. Now, most people are moreoriented to terrorism; most people want to win the war onterrorism.''
Allan J. Lichtman, a historian at American University, said: ''TheAmerican people are nervous. There are substantial numbers whothought that things are not going well, that this was not plannedwell. But I don't see that this is front and center yet. It's tragicwhat is going on, but the casualties are not large enough yet.''
Still, the comparison was raised frequently in interviews.
''It's a disaster -- it will get worse and worse and we will leavethe same way we left Vietnam: with our tail between our legs,'' FrankJessoe, 60, a former Marine who served in Vietnam and voted for RossPerot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000, said in Laguna Beach.
Gary Sambrowski, 54, a Democrat and an investment counselor inDenver, said: ''I get the feeling it's another Vietnam over there. Wejust can't walk away -- we're stuck now.''
Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, said that concern was notthe same as opposition to the war or criticism of Mr. Bush. He saidthere had been no change over the summer in the number of people inhis polls who said the war was a good idea: just over 60 percent.
''America should be concerned, they ought to be worried,'' hesaid. ''But what is important is that you can be worried andconcerned and a little shaky about what's going on over there, butunderstand, the exact same percentage of people say it's a good ideaas three or four months ago.''
Several analysts suggested that Mr. Bush's call for more money hadturned into a catalyst, fortifying existing opposition while stirringconcern among supporters of the war.
''I think it's a real big waste of money,'' said Hele Spivack, 53,a Democrat and jewelry designer who was having brunch at the FrenchCafé in Omaha. ''We should be taking care of our own people,we are not the policemen of the world.''
But at this point, supporters and opponents of the war said thatspending the money was the unavoidable cost of putting an end to theconflict.
''Bush obviously made a mistake in coming back and saying the waris over and underestimating Saddam and his loyalists over there,''said Phillip Ruland, 46, of Laguna Beach. ''I think that we're goingthrough a rough patch over there, but we've got to stay the course. Idon't think it's going to be a Vietnam-type situation. It's totallydifferent. It was a necessary war.''
Images: Photos: In Omaha, Paul McGill, left, who supported thewar, and his wife, Virginia, who did not, both expressed concerns,while Hele Spivack called United States involvement in Iraq ''a realbig waste of money.''; In Omaha's Old Market district, Becky Buntingsaid she was ''very worried'' about the situation in Iraq.(Photographs by Jeff Bundy for The New York Times)(pg. A15)