U.S. Deaths in Iraq Send Political Ripples (WSJ)
walterlx at enet.cu
Wed Jul 2 07:29:25 MDT 2003
Wall Street Journal
July 2, 2003 12:00 a.m. EDT
IRAQ IN TRANSITION
U.S. Deaths in Iraq Send Political Ripples
Lawmakers, Public Become More Restless
and Pessimistic, Put Some Heat on Bush
WASHINGTON -- Continuing American
casualties in Iraq are generating new
restlessness among lawmakers and the
public, presenting an unexpected
political problem for President Bush.
At least 63 American troops have died
in the two months since Mr. Bush stood
on an aircraft carrier and hailed victory
under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.
And almost as many have died since the
fall of Baghdad on April 9 as those who
died during the war up to that point.
Now the White House faces swelling
public pessimism about the occupation,
and bipartisan calls for more complete
disclosure about its risks and costs as
well as for more international support.
By John Harwood and Carla Anne Robbins
in Washington and Alexei Barrionuevo in Iraq
>From the presidential campaign trail, Democratic Sen. Bob
Graham of Florida, a former Senate Intelligence Committee
chairman, accused Mr. Bush in an interview Tuesday of
deceiving Americans before the war and "incompetent"
leadership after it. Even administration allies say the
White House should be more forthcoming. Returning from a
visit to Iraq a few days ago, Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican,
called for "real truth-telling by the president" to
forestall a national debate over "Who lost Iraq?"
President Bush responded to such criticism Tuesday and
sought to prepare the American people for extended
involvement in Iraq. "The rise of Iraq as an example of
moderation and democracy and prosperity is a massive and
long-term undertaking," Mr. Bush declared. Forces attacking
U.S. troops in Iraq "believe they have found an opportunity
to harm America, to shake our resolve in the war on terror
and to cause us to leave Iraq before freedom is fully
established. They are wrong and they will not succeed."
Six American soldiers were reported wounded Tuesday in three
separate attacks in Iraq. Since Mr. Bush declared a formal
end to hostilities two months ago, 23 American soldiers have
died in combat and there have been almost daily attacks on
U.S. forces. The other deaths weren't directly related to
Pentagon officials dismiss the idea that the U.S. is being
drawn into a guerrilla war, but the issue is clearly
sensitive. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld bristled
earlier this week when reporters asked if Iraq could turn
into another Vietnam-like quagmire. "It's a different time.
It's a different era. It's a different place," he responded.
L. Paul Bremer, the coalition's top administrator in Iraq,
Tuesday continued to say that the attacks on troops weren't
organized, but he called some "quite professional"
operations by small groups with military or
intelligence-service experience. Increasingly,
administration officials and allies are calling for
patience. "It's really only 12 weeks ago that we had a war
here," Mr. Bremer said.
The situation on the ground could still improve quickly,
especially if the resistance is as disorganized as the
Pentagon believes it to be. Mr. Bremer expressed optimism,
saying plans are "well on track" to establish an interim
Iraqi administration by mid-July, though that is behind a
previous timetable. In a move suggesting the return of
normalcy, he invited commercial airlines to submit
applications to restart regular flights to Baghdad.
But the daily attacks on U.S. forces and rising resentment
from regular Iraqi citizens are making an impression on
ordinary Americans. A new poll Tuesday -- commissioned by
the Program on International Policy Attitudes, a
foreign-policy research group connected with the University
of Maryland -- found 53% of respondents say the
reconstruction of Iraq isn't going well. In the same poll,
69% say the United Nations rather than the U.S. should lead
economic reconstruction efforts there. A CNN-Gallup-USA
Today survey this week showed 42% believed events in postwar
Iraq are going badly, up from 13% in early May.
So far, those findings haven't significantly cut into the
public support for the war or for Mr. Bush himself, whose
job approval continues its gradual decline from postwar
highs. But polling experts say the combination of casualties
and difficulties in restoring stability in Iraq pose a
potential problem that extends beyond the unresolved search
for weapons of mass destruction. That assessment is shared
by some strategists for Mr. Bush and the Republican Party.
"People don't have an infinite amount of patience," says
Peter Feaver, a Duke University expert on war and public
opinion. He says that prewar warnings of difficulties by
administration critics, ironically, have "bought time" for
Mr. Bush, but that time will run out unless U.S. officials
can demonstrate quicker progress.
Administration officials didn't envision postwar political
problems. Before the war, Mr. Bush's aides expressed
confidence that public attention would turn away from Iraq
after a successful military engagement, allowing the White
House to benefit from enhanced public confidence and
demonstrate its attention to domestic concerns. In recent
weeks that has been the case, as the stock market has risen
and the administration has arrived on the verge of winning a
new Medicare prescription-drug benefit from Congress.
Now that equation seems endangered. Especially problematic
for the administration is the prospect that Americans who
recently exulted in Saddam Hussein's fall may begin
questioning the danger and expense of the postwar occupation
at a time when the U.S. economy continues to struggle.
Some Democrats, eager for a political weapon against Mr.
Bush, are beginning to raise the question themselves.
"What's going to eventually happen is that the president's
credibility is going to be called into question," because of
continued problems, said former Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont,
another Democratic presidential contender, in an interview.
"In our focus group discussions ... people are beginning to
ask questions: 'Why are we spending so much money in Iraq?'
" says Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, an adviser to
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of
Massachusetts. "Americans don't mind spending time, money,
expending lives to defend others, but they do wonder ... why
we're in this alone." American officials say forces from
eight countries are now operating in Iraq, and they are
counting on troops from numerous others nations by year's
end, though U.S. forces -- now numbering about 146,000 --
will dominate the occupation overwhelmingly for its
Sen. Graham predicted that public pessimism about Iraq could
have a "cascading effect" and harm economic confidence at
The administration believes that adverse developments in
Iraq haven't been severe enough to affect either business or
consumer confidence. But the nonpartisan Council on Foreign
Relations last week called on Mr. Bush to address the nation
on "the costs and risks of U.S. engagement in postwar Iraq"
as well as "the importance of seeing the task through."
Making matters more difficult for the Bush administration
are the increasingly public displays of anger and resentment
toward occupying U.S. forces by Iraqi citizens, furious over
continuing insecurity and the slow pace of reconstruction.
In Falluja, a Sunni Muslim town, thousands of Iraqis
demonstrated Tuesday, chanting "America is the enemy" after
an explosion at a mosque killed at least 10 Iraqi civilians.
Members of the mosque accused Americans of bombing the
building, but the military denied responsibility. "There was
no U.S. warplane involved. There was no artillery from U.S.
troops. It was simply an explosion inside a building
adjacent to the mosque," Col. Joseph Disalvo told Reuters.
Write to John Harwood at john.harwood at wsj.com5, Carla Anne
Robbins at carla.robbins at dowjones.com6 and Alexei
Barrionuevo at alexio.barrionuevo at dowjones.com7
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