Worry and Anger Over Iraq Situation
Poll, Interviews Find Rising Concern
By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2004; Page A19
OGALLALA, Neb. -- From this edge of the western plains to California's palm-lined drives to New York's urban canyons, Americans say they are worried and angry about the U.S. role in Iraq, with their anxiety matching that of the earliest days of the war when the success of the push to Baghdad was far from secure.
Nearly daily attacks on U.S. troops and continuing revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners have combined to stir the unrest, leading many to doubt whether the outcome will match the Bush administration's stated goals for going to war.
"I'm getting worried now about this war," Betty Johnson said this week as she waited for two soft pretzels at downtown Ogallala's meeting place, the Spruce Street Sandwich Shop. "Before, I felt it was something we had to do. But it's going so bad. So I wonder now, kind of, what's the point?"
A few blocks away, Bill Terry pondered the same question. "If we'd found . . . nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, that would be something," Terry said as he tallied receipts at his gas station alongside Interstate 80. "We got Saddam out of there. But I think there's just as bad people in the rest of the world. So, for all the mess, what have we got out of it?"
Such questions reflect the concerns of a majority of the nation. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, concluded Sunday night, found that two-thirds of Americans -- 67 percent -- describe themselves as "worried" about the situation in Iraq. In early March of last year, days after combat began, 64 percent said they were worried about the war.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they are "angry," nearly double the figure in March 2003. While most Americans say they are "hopeful" about the eventual outcome, the number of optimists has fallen, from 80 percent 15 months ago to 62 percent today. In another change, a minority today describe themselves as "proud" of the U.S. effort in Iraq.
The poll shows that the war and its aftermath are continuing to ferment strong emotions among Americans, with many beginning to shift from being backers of the war to doubting the United States' role in Iraq.
"Now it looks like we're the bad guys," said Bob Soltan, a carpenter who was renovating a brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y.
President Bush has embarked on an aggressive campaign to assure Americans that the turnover of power to a new Iraqi government at the end of June will go smoothly but to such official assurances, Soltan responds with a classic New York brushoff: "Yeah, everything is going to be nice as long as America stays there for 100 years. How long can this go on?"
While it is clear that the anxiety felt by many about Iraq is strong, the nature of it seems to vary by where people live.
In the big cities, people say they are concerned that the war will spark new bursts of terrorism in the United States. Marvin Bailey, selling trolley tickets on the bank of the Chicago River, said in reference to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, "If I pick a fight with someone, I have to watch my back."
Those fears have prompted many to change their daily routines. "I don't like going on the trains. You can't trust anymore," said Jeanette Gonzalez, a store manager in the Bronx.
In suburbia, where terrorism still seems far away, the worry is for a different reason: The continuing violence in Iraq has brought about far more casualties since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations 13 months ago than during the initial fighting.
"I'm proud our soldiers are there, but I'm starting to get worried that we've been there for so long," said Jossie Sandoval, 40, sitting at a table outside a Pasadena, Calif., bookstore. "Things aren't progressing as quickly as people thought, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. I think what we're trying to do is good, making Iraq a democracy, but I'm not sure what we want to do and what they want is the same thing."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company