Monday, September 8, 2003

Bush speech a necessary report card



By Allen G. Breed
The Associated Press

Atlanta salesman Dick Jones, for one, was glad to hear President Bush put a dollar figure Sunday on the continuing work in Iraq - even if it is $87 billion.

"Increasing the spending pales in comparison to that deed that took place less than a mile down the road," Jones, 47, said as watched Bush's address to the nation in Manhattan's Times Square, not far from ground zero of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "We can't spend enough to protect innocent people."

But Marly Halpern-Graser thought the president's speech tried a little too hard to tie the war to the Sept. 11 attacks and to shift the focus from his failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"I think it's really striking that he mentioned 9-11 and the war on terrorism in Afghanistan more than he talked about what we did in Iraq," said Halpern-Graser, 18, a film major from Galway, N.Y., who was watching the speech in a dorm at Boston's Emerson College.

Randy Bush, 50, of East Alton, Ill., lost a son who died while serving in Iraq and has a daughter home on leave after four months in-country. The Democrat didn't vote for Bush the first time around, but he gave the president high marks Sunday for seeking more United Nations help in continuing what he started.

"We can't withdraw since we're already in there," Randy Bush said. "It's going to take time to plant the seeds of democracy in there, but I feel that I can handle the wait."

In Wake Forest, N.C., Hughen Norse, 65, a just-retired computer consultant, found the speech "rather bland." But he said it was a necessary progress report on where the country is going in the war on terrorism - and why.

"My overall reaction is that the war in Iraq opened Pandora's box, and now we're trying to get it closed again and get all the evils and mischief back in the box," said Nourse, a Republican who says the situation in Iraq will factor greatly in decision whether to vote for Bush a second time. "I felt it was the wrong strategy. I hope he proves me wrong on that."

Staff Sgt. Chad Touchet, 27, is a soldier with the Army's 3rd Infantry at Fort Stewart, Ga., which led the assault on Baghdad. After six months in Iraq, he returned home to his pregnant wife and 4-year-old son.

He felt the president said exactly what the country needed to hear.

"Personally, I think the American people need to understand it wouldn't benefit us in any way at all to just pick up and leave Iraq," he said. "People have already sacrificed their lives to liberate it. It would be a waste, on top of the fact that most of the people in Iraq want us to be there to help them rebuild their country."

Bush's job approval ratings have dropped to just over 50 percent in recent polls, and 70 surveyed in CBS poll released Sunday said domestic issues, rather than international issues, will decide their vote in the 2004 presidential election.

Not everyone felt the need for a presidential pep talk.

Robert Ball, watching Bush's speech at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, said he was disappointed that the president didn't give a time frame in which the U.S. government would turn over operations to Iraqis.

"It sounded like a rah-rah speech rather than anything of substance," said the 42-year-old attorney from New Jersey, who voted for Bush last election.

At the Brasserie bar in the Westin Crown Center Hotel in downtown Kansas City, patron Patrick Geraty of St. Louis said of Bush's proposed $87 billion: "We can't really stop now. We've got to make sure we don't have another Sept. 11 around here."

But waitress Crystal Walquist was more interested in what Bush didn't say Sunday.

"The only thing I want to know is, where are the weapons?" said Walquist, 24, who said she has stepfather and several friends serving in Iraq. "I understand we had to get Saddam's regime out of there. But, is it our job to spend so much of our money doing it?"

For Sgt. John Beach, watching the speech with fellow soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, such questions are just so much talk after what happened two years ago.

"One thing I don't understand, is why the president has to go on TV to justify what the Bush administration has done," said Beach, who serves with the 16th Military Police Detachment. "Especially after Sept. 11."




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