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Americans back Iraq war – warily

The Christian Science Monitor / TIPP poll

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 17, 2002

As the country prepares for possible war in Iraq – Congress and the President having declared that Saddam Hussein is a despot who must go – Americans remain watchful and wary.

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They generally agree that "regime change" in Iraq is called for, even if it means by force. But as is often the case with issues of national or international importance, individual doubts and nuances of feeling enter into the discussion when the political becomes personal – when the theoretical is tempered by one's direct experience.

"Saddam is a danger to the world," says Bonnie Banicki, who works in a nursing home in Markesan, Wis. "If they can prove that [a US attack on Baghdad] is necessary, then go for it." Four of her six children have served in the military, and she'd encourage her grandchildren to sign up as well.

Still, says Ms. Banicki, the prospect of war "scares me to death." She lost a brother in Vietnam, and one of her sons is a career Army sergeant who's already served in Kosovo. "Yes, we need a strong military," she says, "but having a strong military and being militant are two different things."

Banicki, along with 911 other adult Americans, was interviewed last week as part of a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll. In general, the country thinks President Bush is showing good leadership, according to this survey, and he gets high marks for strengthening the military, fighting terrorism, and "encouraging high moral standards and values."

But his grades on foreign affairs and education are mixed at best, and on other important domestic issues – the economy, Social Security, Medicare reform, and managing the federal budget – large majorities grade him at no better than a gentleman's C.

How Mr. Bush is doing here affects the confidence people have in his abilities to lead the nation into war. This reflects not only the mood of the country, but it could be important to the outcome of congressional elections less than three weeks away.

Overall, most Americans continue to think the president is doing a good job. But Mr. Bush's approval rating has dropped steadily in recent months, from 87 percent in January to 63 percent in the Monitor/TIPP survey taken last week.

On the war issue, three-quarters say it's important that the US take military action within the next six months to remove Mr. Hussein, and half say there's enough evidence right now linking the Iraqi leader to terrorism.

"My grandfather always said, 'to keep a snake from biting you, you cut off its head,' " says Donald Jenkins, who owns a mobile-home park in Winchester, Va.

And if that means many years of US forces stationed in Iraq after the fighting stops (as has been the case in Germany and South Korea), so be it, says Mr. Jenkins. "If you don't, your grandchildren may end up with the same problem – only a whole lot worse."

Many Americans apparently agree. "The way I see it, we should do something [about Hussein] in the near future," says Dan Akerley, a young emergency medical technician in Dolgeville, New York. "If we don't, I see more troubles brewing. We should have taken care of this when the first George Bush was president."