Bush opts for war, most say they’d support decision

The Columbus Dispatch – March 9, 2003

39% Support military action against Iraq even without Security Council approval

38% Support military action only with Security Council approval

18% Oppose any military action

56% Support giving U.N. inspectors more time

66% Would support a decision by Bush to go to war

Telephone poll of 302 Columbus-area residents conducted Wednesday and Thursday by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch

The debate over whether America should go to war with Iraq plays out every day in Tom Ashley’s North Side deli.

The 200 to 250 people who patronize his place on Karl Road are evenly split on the question, he said.

Ashley, a 39-year-old Clintonville resident, doesn’t think the case has been made to take on Saddam Hussein. But if war starts, he will back President Bush, simply because ”He’s the president.”

Ashley’s views are typical of most Columbus-area residents, a new poll shows.

A clear majority wants to give U.N. weapons inspectors more time. Respondents are evenly divided on whether the United States should go it alone if the U.N. Security Council does not support military action.

But if Bush decides we must go to war, central Ohioans, by more than a 2-1 margin, say they’ll be behind him.

Ashley, who was one of the poll participants, said other issues are more important than war with Iraq — such as the stumbling economy.

Saddam should be monitored, he said. ”We should let the U.N. do that. It’s their job. I think we should still have forces there just in case, but maybe not as many as we do now.”

But respondents such as Charles Cox of Westerville see danger in more delays.

”The longer we wait, the more body bags we’ll have to use,” said the 59-year-old car salesman. ”They aren’t dismantling weapons, they are just moving them closer.”

Cox said the United States has no choice but to disarm Iraq because Saddam poses a grave threat to Americans. And to minimize casualties, a U.S. attack on Iraq needs to come soon.

”Saddam is a threat not only for the Iraqi people, but he has the ability to hide terrorists,” said Cox, a Korean War veteran whose brother took part in the Persian Gulf War. ”We’ve gone to the United Nations 14 times because Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and they have yet to disarm. We’ve waited long enough.”

The telephone survey of 302 randomly selected Columbus-area residents was conducted Wednesday and Thursday by Saperstein Associates, a Columbus firm that researches public opinion. The poll used random-digit dialing for exchanges covered by the Columbus phone book. The margin of sampling error is 6 percentage points; other sources of error are always possible.

The polling firm’s president, Martin D. Saperstein, said he was surprised at the support for war shown by the poll. While participants deadlocked on whether the United States should obtain the Security Council’s approval before an attack, fewer than one in five chose a third possible response to that question: no military action at all against Iraq.

So while many respondents expressed concerns about the timing of a U.S. attack or the role of the United Nations, in the end more than three-fourths agreed that Saddam is a threat to America and should be removed from power — regardless of whether inspectors find weapons of mass destruction, he said. And more than two-thirds back a war even if there are hundreds of American casualties.

”If there would be U.N. approval of a second resolution (against Iraq), public opinion-wise this would be a slam dunk,” Saperstein said. ”Clearly, there’s a lot of people ready for war.”

George Dietz is one of them.

”We should go in and take care of him,” he said of Saddam. ”I just wish we’d get it over with. The (military’s) morale has got to be getting lower.”

The semiretired systems administrator and history buff laments the public’s short attention span.

”It’s pathetic,” he said. ”People don’t follow history and how it repeats itself. I don’t want another 9/11.”

The 41-year-old Galloway resident dismissed protests from other countries.

”As an American, I don’t care. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but Americans have to do what is in their best interest, regardless.

”We help out countries like France and Russia and literally get slapped in the face. Until they’ve had a 9/11 like we’ve had, I don’t think they should judge.”

But respondent Kathy Stockton said, ”We don’t need this war” — even though she is surrounded by family members who are serving or who have served in the military.

One brother is in the Air Force on call to head to Turkey; another brother had the grim task of identifying bodies in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Her brother-in-law was a Marine, and an uncle served in the Navy.

Even her 14-year-old daughter is thinking about military service.

”Talking is better than war,” said Stockton, 34, an unemployed warehouse worker from Grove City. ”President Bush wants to jump to the guns. He has not taken the opportunity to talk to Saddam Hussein.”

North Korea bears watching more closely than Iraq, Stockton said. Iraq’s missiles can travel 93 miles, she said, while North Korea’s weapons can trigger a world war.

Thirty-seven percent of the respondents advocated U.S. military action against North Korea if it builds nuclear weapons, while 42 percent opposed such a move.

A sampling of other opinions from those polled:

* ”What’s the rush? He’s in a corner. He can’t do anything,” said Dublin lawyer Ron Khasawneh, 43, who doesn’t believe Saddam is such a serious threat that the U.S. should sacrifice lives and resources.

”I know they have done stupid things in the past, but they are not that dumb,” said Khasawneh, who came to the United States from Jordan as a teen-ager.

* Jon Powers of Westerville is ready for war.

”They need to get on with it and get done with it,” said the 27-year-old lineman for American Electric Power who still burns over the Sept. 11 attack.

”How many more people can we make mad at the United States? They’re mad at us already.”

* Paul Boomershine, 58, a business analyst from Hilliard, said, ”It seems to me all the discussion is whether there will be a war. There’s no discussion of alternatives to bringing Saddam Hussein in line in another manner.”

Trade sanctions and other actions could be pursued instead of attacking Iraq, he said.

* Donna Fuelkette, 65, of the Far West Side, said Bush has a personal vendetta stemming from his father’s decision to leave Saddam in power in the hope that the Iraqis would oust him.

”He’s trying to right a wrong and any way he can do it, he will,” said the retired payroll administrator for the state of Ohio.

”I have five sons and I can’t see them going to war for this — although they are probably too old to be drafted. I don’t think it’s right for anyone else’s children either, just so the president can get the glory for his father.”

* Celestine Shipp has mixed feelings about possible war.

”There’s a saying, ‘Let the man who has the least to lose start the revolution’ and I think we have a lot to lose,” said the 71-year-old resident of the Far West Side.

Still, Shipp said she supports her country unconditionally and will back Bush and war with Iraq if it comes to that.

”If you love your country, you are supposed to fight. My father was in the first world war. You don’t run.”