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MPR poll: Minnesotans think war will worsen U.S. standing in the world
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Iraqi children cheer as a US military humvee drives past them along a street of Baghdad on Tuesday. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The war in Iraq has taken center stage in the presidential election this week. On Tuesday during a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President George W. Bush defended his decision to invade the country. The message came as Democratic challenger John Kerry has stepped up his criticism of the president's war planning. A new poll sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and the St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests that most Minnesotans share Kerry's misgivings about certain aspects of the war or its aftermath, but a majority still says the president is better prepared to manage the situation.

St. Paul, Minn. — According to poll results, just about two-thirds of Minnesotans say President Bush was right to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. That should be comforting news to the president, who hasn't wavered from his decision.

Speaking to a United Nations assembly in New York, Bush acknowledged the tense situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but defended his decisions to use military force in both countries.

"But these difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat. It is to prevail," he said.

Still, feelings about the war are complex. Of those who say the president was right to invade, half of them nonetheless say the administration was unprepared for the insurgency that's followed and that's claimed more American lives than the initial invasion.

Add to that the roughly one third of poll respondents who opposed the war from the start and Sen. John Kerry may believe the issue plays to his advantage.

In a speech on Monday at New York University, Kerry offered his most direct criticism of the president's prosecution of the war. Kerry faulted the president for saying he wouldn't have done anything differently, despite widely acknowledged flaws in pre-war intelligence.

I definitely think that they didn't prepare for the aftermath of how it would be and how the country would retaliate against us and its own people.
- Necole Scheuler, poll respondent

"How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying to America that if we know there was no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer, resoundingly: no," Kerry said.

Kerry says the invasion and the ongoing insurgency have actually weakened America's position in the world and incited new enemies to action. To some extent, polls respondents share that concern, with 40 percent saying the war has undermined the country's standing in the world.

Only 22 percent say the country's standing has improved with the rest saying there's been no change or that they're unsure of any change. The poll has a margin of sampling error of four percentage points.

Necole Scheuler, one of the 625 likely voters contacted last week for the survey, says she supported the decision to invade but is critical of what she says was the administration's lack of foresight.

"I definitely think that they didn't prepare for the aftermath of how it would be and how the country would retaliate against us and its own people. I mean, I think we caused a lot more destruction than anything over there," she said.

Scheuler, a 22-year-old Coon Rapids resident, says she believes Kerry is better prepared to reduce the violence and instability in Iraq. But in that regard, she's in a distinct minority. A full 51 percent say they trust Bush to handle Iraq, compared to 37 percent who favor Kerry in that connection.

Gerry Vanryswyk is among the Bush supporters. He says he supported the invasion and believes the president is making the best of a necessarily messy situation.

"They were probably as well-prepared for the aftermath as could be under the circumstances. War is filled with uncertainties. And I'm sure that you can't know everything prior to going to war. But you try to do the best that you possibly can," he said.

Vanryswyk is a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran from Deer River who says he's supporting Bush for re-election. He, like half of the poll respondents, believes that Iraqis will ultimately be better off because of the invasion.

But despite the strong feelings and the daily headlines, a distinct minority of Minnesotans put Iraq at the top of their list of major campaign issues -- fewer than one-in-five, actually. According to the poll, the top vote-getter will be the economy and jobs.

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