As strikes begin, Americans hawkish but wary
WASHINGTON — Nine in 10 Americans say they support military action, but 8 in 10 also worry about more terrorist attacks.
As the grainy, green images of explosions filter in from Afghanistan, the mood of the US public can be summed up largely in one word - hawkish.
Early polls after the initial round of US and British air strikes show overwhelming support for the action. Indeed, a Gallup survey shows 90 percent approval.
But underneath that support is unease about what comes next. The same survey shows that Americans are more concerned about terrorist attacks now than they were even two weeks ago. And as the campaign continues, the question is: Will public support hold through casualties and possible terrorist reprisals?
For the moment, however, as the outlines of the complicated battle begin to surface, many Americans are simply putting their faith in Washington.
"My attitude about this is: There's no way we can know enough to say that we've done enough diplomacy, or that bombing is the right thing to do at this point in time," says Jim Hime, a Houston architect watching ABC News as he gets ready for work. "I just feel that the government knows what we ought to do."
In some ways, the nearly unequivocal support for the initial strikes is not surprising. Polls had shown that Americans were eager for some kind of retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
A Pew Research Center survey done the week of Sept. 27 found that Americans given the choice between building "defenses at home" or taking "military action" favored strikes 44 percent to 33 percent. The same poll showed people were more concerned about the US waiting too long to attack than they were about reacting too quickly. "Given that the alternative we offered was defending the homeland, we were surprised by the results," says Michael Dimock of the center. "They were not what the conventional wisdom would have suggested."
Standing behind the counter of a Starbucks in St. Louis, Peggy Armstrong says she feels the US attacks are a necessity. "Look, I don't know anything about strategy, but we had to do something. We can't just let them fly planes into our buildings." As a coworker prepares a mocha grande, Ms. Armstrong continues. "I have teenage sons myself who are at an age where they could be drafted," she says. "I'm concerned, but hey, we didn't start this."
A small but vocal minority, however, is not pleased with the US response. At peace rallies in various cities, people have gathered to voice opposition to the strikes. Violence, they say, will breed only more violence, and they are concerned about Afghan casualties. "I strongly believe that there are other ways to resolve conflicts without taking innocent lives," says Elizabeth Carmody, who attended a rally in Times Square Sunday wearing a leather jacket with a pink sticker: "An eye for an eye only leaves the whole world blind."
It is still too early to know how well-founded those concerns are. Early reports from the first round of strikes suggest that military and tactical targets took the brunt, if not all, of the damage - with civilians suffering little or not at all.
Last week, even before the airstrikes, 3,000 protesters, mostly college students that had originally come to protest a canceled World Bank meeting, marched against a military campaign in the country.
Beyond the suffering of the Afghans, there is concern about the US role in a protracted conflict, particularly one that involves ground forces. Media coverage has made it clear that there are limited targets in Afghanistan and that fighting on the rocky terrain could be extremely difficult.
Joe Fuchs, a grocery-store manager in St. Louis who has spent time in Afghanistan, wonders in the end how effective the campaign will be. "The cities they're hitting - there's nothing there." He also worries about the tenacity of the Afghans. "They're fiercely loyal to their country and their religion."
In the end, however, the nation's resolve may be most tested by future terrorist attacks. Washington issued new warnings Sunday for citizens, and the Gallup poll revealed 83 percent of Americans believe a terrorist attack is very or somewhat likely - up 17 percent from two weeks ago.
Staff writers Kris Axtman in Houston and Alexandra Marks in New York and contributor Craig Savoye in St. Louis contributed to this report.