In US, uneasy ambivalence about Iraq
Two years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Americans have settled into an uneasy ambivalence about the war.Skip to next paragraph
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The protracted military campaign has cost 1,519 American lives, thousands of nonfatal casualties, and more than $200 billion in emergency spending. And with the heavy use of National Guard and reserve forces - many of them police, firefighters, and other first responders - virtually every community has somebody in Iraq or headed there.
Yet the public, for the moment, seems to have moved on to Social Security, domestic shootouts, pop star Michael Jackson, and the price of gasoline. Even the antiwar movement is less vocal these days about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction or allegations of ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
For one thing, says political scientist John Allen Williams of Loyola University Chicago, "President Bush has succeeded in changing the terms of the engagement in saying that it's about democracy."
And signs of democracy have indeed appeared. Americans saw the enthusiasm that many Iraqis took to the voting booths earlier this year, as well as democratic stirrings in the region from Egypt to Lebanon.
Still, many Americans, when asked, express uneasiness with - if not opposition to - the war. As reported this week in a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, 53 percent of Americans feel the war was not worth fighting, 57 percent say they disapprove of the Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq, and 70 percent think the number of US casualties is an unacceptable price to have paid. A plurality of Americans (41 percent) also believe the war has damaged this country's standing abroad, particularly as they see much of the "coalition of the willing" heading home from Iraq, leaving Americans to carry more and more of the burden there.
This is far different from when US forces charged from Kuwait toward Baghdad two years ago. Then, 75 percent approved of Bush's handling of Iraq and 70 percent thought the war was worth fighting. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans saying the number of US military casualties is unacceptable has doubled.
Yet most Americans also agree that Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein, and they now believe the chances of democracy spreading in the Middle East have improved.
This conflicted feeling may be especially true of young people, for whom Iraq could well influence their world view and relative trust of US leaders for the rest of their lives - much as Vietnam did for their parents.
For sure, it's made them much more aware of the rest of the world, raising concerns about their own future as well as the country's.
"I honestly try not to think about casualty levels. It causes me too much anxiety. I wouldn't be able to function if I thought about it," says Justin Holt, a third-year student at DePaul University in Chicago majoring in political science and psychology. Yet he says the recent election in Iraq "was so inspiring and a step in the right direction.
"It gave me new confidence in Bush," says Mr. Holt, a tall, slim man with dark hair. "But I'm still skeptical about his policies. I'm worried that maybe the new government [in Iraq] will want something crazy from us, something unpredictable."
Noel Baba, another DePaul University student, views the war from a unique perspective. His parents are Iraqi Christians who fled their Baghdad home in 1971 (before he was born) after Saddam Hussein took over. They lived in Canada for several years and then settled in Chicago.
Of the war, he says, "My parents and lots of people from there are for it. But I don't think that we initially exhausted every way to resolve the issues. I think we rushed into the war."
Despite the recent election in Iraq, he says. "It's still a police state with troops."
He concedes, though, "I do feel it's a better place without Saddam Hussein. When he came to power, a lot of people fled. There was a lot of Christian persecution."