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The Nation

Across Nation, Critics of Bush Express Support for Iraq War

September 15, 2002|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — She's a self-described liberal Democrat from Florida who voted for Al Gore and has little confidence in President Bush. Nevertheless, Jill Hogsed is willing to accept the judgment of a president she dislikes and accept substantial American casualties in a ground assault on Baghdad if that's what it takes to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I do have to have a little bit of blind faith" in Bush, even though "he's not as smart as I feel a president needs to be," said Hogsed, a 42-year-old mother of two young children in Melbourne Beach.

"I don't remember a time in my lifetime when our country was targeted, and because that's so frightening, I will support people who have more experience and knowledge than I do," Hogsed said. She struggled to explain: "I don't think being a liberal means being a sitting duck."

The will to war builds slowly in a nation that long thought itself invulnerable. But even as the Bush administration has failed to produce a smoking gun linking Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks, a substantial majority of Americans--including people who are no fans of Bush and would never describe themselves as hawks--say they would support the president's use of U.S. ground troops against Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein has to be put to a stop," Hogsed said. "He totally needs to be gone."

Interviews with Americans across the nation, as well as a spate of recent polls, indicate that support for military action against Iraq reaches well beyond those conservative Republicans most expected to back Bush. In late August, The Times Poll found that 59% of respondents believe the U.S. should take military action to remove Hussein from power. An even larger majority, 64%, said they would support a ground attack on Iraq if Bush decided to launch one, with 28% opposed.

The tallies indicate that a growing number of political moderates have concluded that there is no alternative to the use of preemptive force to prevent Iraq from acquiring nuclear weapons or using its chemical and biological arsenal.

And Bush's move to shift the emphasis of his war on terrorism to Iraq from Afghanistan appears to be succeeding.

Asked whether Hussein or Osama bin Laden posed a larger threat to the United States, 40% named Hussein and 27% cited Bin Laden in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week. The poll of 1,011 adults was conducted from Sept. 3-5 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Moreover, 77% of poll respondents considered Hussein a serious threat; 58% thought that the U.S. was in a state of war; 84% agreed that the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks have their next attack planned or in the works; and 80% believed the United States should take military action to remove Hussein if it had evidence that the Iraqi leader is building or is about to build nuclear weapons.

What the polls don't show is the degree to which many Americans are ambivalent and worried, even while voicing confidence that the United States will prevail.

In in-depth interviews, voters who describe themselves as moderates voiced deep concern about the consequences of either inaction or unilateral U.S. military action. They fervently wish for allies in any fight against Iraq, but even without allies, they say America should defend its interests. And many express profound doubts about whether Bush is up to the job, even while they stress their respect for his office.

Yet in the end, these voters express a resolve to do what it takes to defend America and a commitment to what they view as a patriotic duty to support the president in a war. And they express confidence that America will prevail.

Peggy Nelms, 71, remembers the fear and sense of vulnerability inspired by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She remembers Adolf Hitler and the revelations about the Holocaust that emerged only after World War II. Now, the retired high school English teacher from Palos Verdes Estates finds herself "thinking of what could have been done, and the appeasement, and the threat of what our president calls 'nuke-yaler' weapons," mocking his mispronunciation of the word.

"The threat of annihilation with nuclear and biological weapons--and the missiles--is so much greater," Nelms added. "We used to feel protected, and now you're threatened by Iraq in your own home here in California, because he can 'getcha!' "

Over the course of a long conversation, Nelms explained why she feels "very, very torn" over the administration's Iraq policy, yet why she believes the U.S. must commit ground troops to resolving the crisis, even if it cannot rally allies to its cause.

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