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Straws in the Wind: Americans Disquieted About Deployment in Gulf

October 10, 1990

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) _ When The Daily Mail asked eight people if they thought the United States should invade Iraq and Kuwait to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis, only two said yes. Debbie Harnish, 29, of Hagerstown, said U.S. troops ″should just get back over here.″

When the organization Americans Talk Security asked how long U.S. forces should remain in Saudi Arabia if there’s a stalemate, only 12 percent said indefinitely. But 32 percent predicted that’s how long troops will be there.

It was the ″ghost of Vietnam question,″ said Alan Kay, founder of the bipartisan group of pollsters.

Sen. Bob Kerrey may have spoken for more Americans than he thought when he said he is ″profoundly uneasy″ about the deployment of U.S. troops in the Middle East.

The uneasiness is quiet. People who are uneasy don’t usually march in parades and carry banners about it. They’re just uneasy.

Public opinion polls show broad support for President Bush’s actions so far in the gulf crisis, but also show that a large majority of Americans oppose quick military action against Iraq.

In Pasadena, Calif., the Rev. George Regas, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, said ″I think there is a lot of despair. I think Bush is going to be surprised when he thinks that the support he has can be translated into real support for the tragedy of war. I just don’t think it’s going to be there.″

In Philadelphia, Harold Jordan, coordinator of the National Youth and Militarism Program of the American Friends Service Committee, reported receiving 550 to 600 calls and letters since early August from people who ″never had any contact with organized peace or anti-war movements in the past.″ Some, Jordan said, ″say they would fight if they felt this country was truly threatened, but they don’t see this as being a threat.″

Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat, said in a Sept. 19 speech on the Senate floor, ″I am profoundly uneasy about the instant deployment of over 100,000 American troops, sold to the American people on false assertions that Saddam Hussein is Adolf Hitler, that our way of life is at clear and present danger, that we have as much at stake as we did in World War II.″

Kerrey also said that ″many - probably a majority - of Nebraskans″ had accepted President Bush’s rationale for the deployment.

More than two weeks later, Kerrey’s press secretary, Steve Jarding, said ″That hasn’t changed. It’s still pretty strong that he ought to be supporting the president.″

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., on the other hand, said telephone calls and letters from his district have reflected ″a lot of support for the position of getting out of the Arabian desert.″

McDermott voted against a resolution supporting the president’s actions in the crisis but emphasizing the need for diplomacy to resolve it. The resolution passed the House 380-29 on Oct. 1 and the Senate passed a similar measure the following day.

McDermott said that when he was attending meetings in his home district during the August recess, ″the question was raised, what are we doing in the gulf? It was more a questioning than a statement of support or attack.″ More recently, he said, ″People began to raise the question of: why don’t we get out of there?″

Some of the dissent, of course, comes from longtime critics of U.S. military involvement abroad. Demonstrators have begun to appear in Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. On one recent afternoon, reprising a refrain from the Vietnam era, they shouted, ″Hell no, we won’t go 3/8″

And the president has his all-out backers as well. ″I support his action and know he has far more advisers with a lot more knowledge of what’s going on than I could ever imagine,″ said Darlene Brown of Rockville, Md., president of the Young Republicans of Montgomery County.

Yet Jordan of the Quaker-based Friends Service Committee said he is getting calls from people, hardly any of them Quakers, from a ″wide variety of fairly ordinary backgrounds.″

″We see people from hillbilly country in West Virginia, folks in Idaho, all kinds,″ he said. ″We are getting calls from pay booths on military installations. Some people have made it clear that if they are ordered they are not going. These are people who have been pushed over the edge by the Persian Gulf situation.″

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