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Bush’s Speech on Iraq Gets Mixed Reaction

September 8, 2003

Master Sgt. Franklin Brown cheered President Bush’s call for a multinational force in Iraq. He applauded Bush’s plan to seek $87 billion to fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The one thing that disappointed Brown about Bush’s national address Sunday was the president’s failure to say when his 22-year-old son and other U.S. troops might be finished in Iraq.

``I guess he can’t really come out and say it, but what are we going to do as far as we’re trying to get the Iraq government functioning on its own?″ asked Brown, 43, who spent 11 months with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq and now teaches ROTC in metro Atlanta. ``What are we going to do to help the Middle East other than be there?″

Unlike Brown, Austin Swint found little to cheer about in Bush’s speech.

Swint, 32, a bar manager from San Diego, gasped aloud when Bush said he would ask Congress for more military funding. He said the rebuilding effort was taking money away from education and other domestic priorities.

``It’s just too much (money),″ said Swint, who voted for Bush in 2000. ``We are not the world’s policemen. We don’t need to rebuild Iraq. We just need to put them in the right direction.″

Bush’s job approval ratings have dropped to just over 50 percent in recent polls, and 70 percent surveyed in a CBS poll released Sunday said domestic issues, rather than international issues, will decide their vote in 2004. But Hughen Nourse said he was watching Bush’s speech to decide whether Bush gets his vote again.

``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, 65, a just-retired computer consultant from Wake Forest, N.C. ``I felt it was the wrong strategy. I hope he proves me wrong on that.″

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, but he gave the president high marks Sunday for seeking more United Nations help in continuing what he started.

``It’s going to take time to plant the seeds of democracy in there, but I feel that I can handle the wait,″ he said.

Salesman Dick Jones was glad to hear Bush put a dollar figure on the continuing work in Iraq, and said the price is well worth it.

``Increasing the spending pales in comparison to that deed that took place less than a mile down the road,″ said Jones, 47, of Atlanta, as he watched Bush’s address in Manhattan’s Times Square, not far from ground zero of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But Marly Halpern-Graser thought Bush 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., attending Boston’s Emerson College.

Robert Ball, watching Bush’s speech at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, said he was disappointed that Bush didn’t give a time frame for turning governance of Iraq over 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 Westin Crown Center Hotel in downtown Kansas City, bar 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?″ asked Walquist, 24, whose stepfather and several friends are 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. ``Especially after Sept. 11.″

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Allen G. Breed is the AP’s Southeast regional writer, based in Raleigh, N.C.

Also contributing to this report were Helena Payne in Boston; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga.; Chris Roberts in El Paso, Texas; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City; Chaka Ferguson in New York; Bennie Currie in Chicago; Elliot Spagat in San Diego; and Alexandria Sage in Los Angeles.

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