Opinion split in Maryland reflects a national division

Not everyone convinced that war against Iraq is necessary, inevitable

October 08, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Among Marylanders, the difference in opinion last night on President Bush's speech - in which he urged confronting the Iraqi regime "for the sake of peace" - was as wide as the distance between Washington and Baghdad.

Many remained unconvinced that military action is the answer, while others pledged their full support to the president.

From Salisbury to Charles Village, about the only thing residents did agree on was that the president's half-hour address, beamed into their homes from Cincinnati, did little to change opinions they held prior to his remarks.

National poll

The local reaction reflects the findings of a national poll released yesterday that showed 53 percent of respondents backing a U.S. ground troop invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power, with 40 percent opposed.

Assuming the campaign would result in 1,000 American dead or wounded, the numbers shifted, to 51 percent opposed and 43 percent supporting, according to the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll.

Americans were evenly split on whether Bush had exhausted his options, short of war, for dealing with Hussein, the poll found. It was taken Thursday through Sunday and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

"I'm not surprised at what he said. He seems to have repeated the same claims of the past," said Barbara Larcom, interim regional director of the American Friends Service Committee, the national Quaker humanitarian organization opposed to war.

Larcom listened with interest as Bush called for a confrontation with Iraq describing Saddam Hussein as a "homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction."

But, she said, Bush "didn't make it clear why we had to do it now."

The only piece of information new to Larcom was Bush's claim that Iraq is rebuilding its nuclear capacity, but she said there are other ways to create a safer world besides disarming Iraq.

"If you want to create a safer world, the way you do that is that you start working for justice and treat countries in a just manner," she said.

Not a friend of Iraq

"Bush said America is a friend to Iraq, but since the [Persian] Gulf war, we have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people by destroying their infrastructure. We are not a friend of Iraq," said Larcom, of Hampden.

As Bush outlined his assessment of Iraq as a "unique" threat to the United States and the world, Richard Ullrich, of the Maryland branch of Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, didn't buy it.

"I did not get what the president was saying about Saddam Hussein being unique," said Ullrich, whose nonpartisan organization of business leaders, retired generals and admirals believes that the government's spending priorities are undermining the nation's security needs.

"There are other rogue countries that have weapons of mass destruction, that have dictators as inhumane as Saddam Hussein. I can look around and find others."

The politics of oil

Left without a persuasive call to action against Iraq, some suggested that Bush's real motivation behind a possible invasion of Iraq is about the politics of oil.

"He just barely mentioned oil, which I think is the major concern," said Phyllis Yingling, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

"We like to drive our cars and SUVs. This is probably the one reason that would convince people, is that we need to free Iraq and get our oil."

But in Salisbury, Susan G. Ragan, president of the Maryland Committee for POW-MIA, said that it is important for every American to stand behind the president, Congress and Senate to avoid a national pain similar to what the country experienced during the Vietnam War.

"I know it's difficult to think that our sons and daughters may be called upon," said Ragan, whose brother-in-law has been missing in action in Vietnam since 1967, "but the bottom line is that freedom is not free."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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