Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Go to War in Iraq
War in Iraq
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Americans increasingly wary about war in Iraq
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Joe Shulka of south Minneapolis says he feels like a fool for having supported the decision to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)
President Bush addresses the nation in a speech Tuesday evening from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The president is struggling in opinion polls and he is expected to make his case for staying the course in Iraq. Polls show the nation divided on whether troops should remain in Iraq or whether they should be brought home as soon as possible. The percentage of people who think going to war was the right decision has plunged from nearly three quarters of the nation when the invasion took place in the spring of 2003, to less than half now.

St. Paul, Minn. — 39-year-old Joe Shulka, a Democrat, says he's angry and embarrassed that he supported President Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

"It seemed like this was the right thing to do and this was obvious thing to do particularly after 9/11. And now looking back, I mean, really honest, I feel like a fool because I feel like with everything that's come in light about information and the way it was spun, it really makes me angry that I fell for it hook, line and sinker," Shulka says.

Shulka admits, he was impressed with the initial success of the invasion. But he says it became clear early on the U.S. was not prepared to occupy Iraq and that the weapons of mass destruction justification for the war was unwarranted.

"I think in the first two weeks 'shock and awe', the whole Powell doctrine, the overwhelming force, I think proved itself really effective and I think it was squandered after that," says Shulka.

Several nationwide polls show that many Americans have changed their minds about the Iraq war and have come to the conclusion it was a bad decision and that it's time to pull out.

Carroll Doherty at the Pew Research Center for People and the Press has been tracking public sentiment since the war began.

"We're seeing shifts on both measures," Doherty says. "More people disagree with the decision to go to war and an increasing number would like to see the troops pulled out as soon as possible."

Doherty says since last fall the percentage of Americans who think the troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible has jumped 10 points to 46 percent.

Pollsters speculate it is the unending stream of bad news that's behind the shift in support for the war.

Last month's ABC News-Washington Post polling found 58 percent of Americans believe the war was not worth fighting and a majority of country's population, 52 percent, think the war in Iraq has failed to improve the long-term security of the United States.

43-year-old Steve Hill disagrees. Hill describes himself as an "average" guy who's been active in both the Independence and Republicans parties. Hill supported the decision to invade Iraq. He fully agrees with the president's assertion that, because of the war, Iraq is the terrorism battleground, not the U.S.

Hill attributes recent poll findings to negative news coverage about the war. Such reporting, he says, often ignores progress.

"A lot of positive things are happening in Iraq that we don't hear about and I think that has a lot to do with what the poll numbers have," Hill says.

Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation, including Sen. Mark Dayton and Sen. Norm Coleman, generally agree it would be a bad idea to set a timetable for a troop withdrawal. But Rep. Jim Oberstar and Rep. Betty McCollum, both Democrats, think a timeline makes sense.

Pew Center polling last month indicated a growing number of Americans think Iraq is becoming "another Vietnam".

"We asked that last year and by two to one people were telling us no," Carroll Doherty from the Pew Center says.

The margin is a lot closer now.

"Thirty-five percent say it's turning into another Vietnam but more people, 47 percent, say no. But that's the closest division of opinion we've ever seen on that question," Doherty says.

Steve Hill says he thinks political opportunism is driving opposition to the war. He says many of the critics are trying to reinvigorate the Vietnam era peace movement.

"It feels like a lot of people ascended to power based on that protest and are trying to recreate that today with this war and I feel like it's starting to do a real disservice to what we're trying to accomplish," Hill says.

For years Women Against Military madness has maintained a weekly peace vigil on the Lake Street Bridge, which links Minneapolis and St. Paul. The focus for the last five years has been on Iraq; first a call to end the sanctions, then a protest of the looming invasion and now a demonstration against what activists call "the occupation."

Marie Braun, who organizes the vigil, says she can guage a change in public sentiment about the war from the response she's been getting from passers-by.

"When we first came out here you know five, six years ago, we maybe got eight or nine thumbs-up and eight or nine thumbs down or a little more serious than thumbs-down, but I feel like the horns, the blowing of the horns, the thumbs-up, if you make eye contact with people you just see that the support just continues to increase," Braun says.

Braun says there are sharp contrasts between Iraq and Vietnam but also similarities.

"In the sense that there is a resistance there that is not going to give up," Bruan says. "The Iraqi people are not going to allow the United States to occupy that country. We have the military force but the resistance will go on and on and on. And that's what happened in Vietnam."

Republican Gretchen Wheelwright, a retired school administrator who lives in south Minneapolis, says she voted for Bush in 2000 but not last fall, largely because of the war.

"I am not surprised that people are beginning to loose faith in the president, I am just surprised that it didn't happen sooner," says Wheelwright.

Wheelwright says she had concerns about the war from the onset, particularly the Bush administration's go-it-alone approach. She says it be would foolish to set a date to pull out troops, but she's convinced the war has backfired.

"We are creating more terrorists instead of fewer terrorists because we are providing a platform for the people in the Middle East who don't like us to have a rationale for attacking us," Wheelwright says.

Carroll Doherty, from the Pew Center, says while there is a clear and dramatic erosion of support for the war, most Americans still tell pollsters U.S. troops should remain in Iraq.

"I don't think we've hit the turning point where the real bottom's fallen out. On the other hand we're very close in terms of public opinion," Doherty says, "There just has been this steady stream of bad news and it doesn't seem to be getting any better."

Steve Hill, the man who says he still supports the effort in Iraq and believes the president could turn around public opinion by talking more about the importance of the war and emphasizing successes.

"I think the president has to get out there and figure out a way to get people to understand. Ronald Reagan did that real well," Hill says. "He went over the head of the press and communicated directly to the people and I think the president has to do that more. I don't think he wants to get down in the trenches, but I think he has to."

President Bush has spent much of his second term promoting Social Security reform. The White House says he'll be talking more about Iraq in the coming weeks, but he will not abandon his domestic agenda.

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