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Public Pressure Mounts for Bush to Curtail Iraq War
Public Pressure Mounts for Bush to Curtail Iraq War
After Katrina Disaster
By Beth Gorham
September 22, 2005 by the Canadian Press via Common Dreams
WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush says he can wage
war in Iraq and still pay most of the huge bill for
rebuilding the hurricane-lashed Gulf Coast. Most
Americans don't agree with him. And for the first time,
Bush is facing a serious revolt in his own party over
how to pay for hurricane relief. Republicans already
edgy about the estimated $200-billion US price tag to
clean up after Katrina were bracing for more damage by
week's end as hurricane Rita hurtled toward Texas and
the battered Louisiana coast.
For now, they're split on whether to cut domestic
programs or add billions more to the whopping $333-
billion U.S. deficit, options that Americans clearly
aren't favouring in opinion polls.
And with congressional elections looming next year,
analysts say legislators are increasingly feeling the
heat from voters who tell pollsters the Iraq war was a
mistake and Bush is spending too much there.
If the tide of public opinion doesn't budge, Bush may
not be able to withstand an abrupt change in priorities,
said Charles Cushman, a politics professor at George
"His supporters in Congress could abandon him if he's
not going to be able to help them get re-elected," he
"There will be tremendous pressure to declare victory no
matter what's going on in Iraq and go home."
A new Gallup survey Wednesday reported a record high in
the percentage of Americans favouring a reduction of
U.S. troops in Iraq, with 63 per cent saying some or all
of them should come home.
The opinion shift on troop withdrawal was similar among
Republicans, Democrats and independents.
And 54 per cent of Americans chose less spending on Iraq
over other means of paying for Katrina, including
increasing the deficit, cutting domestic programs or
raising taxes, an option Bush has ruled out.
Public approval of Bush's handling of Iraq tumbled eight
points in just the last week, to 32 per cent.
An Iraq backlash from Katrina was evident in other
recent polls, including an Associated Press-Ipsos survey
this week in which two-thirds said Bush was spending too
much on the war.
As well, a recent New York Times survey suggested more
than eight in 10 Americans are concerned about the $5
billion US spent each month in Iraq, with support for
the war falling to an all-time low.
Still, only 26 per cent said they expected U.S. troops
to be withdrawn within two years.
"Technically, it is possible for the administration to
continue to wage war in Iraq and launch huge domestic
efforts," said Will Dobson, managing editor of Foreign
"The question is whether either can be done to the
expectations of the public," he said. "And now Bush is
in complete damage control mode."
The president's record low approval ratings after the
bungled response to Katrina didn't improve following a
nationally televised speech last week where he promised
to fund one of the world's largest reconstruction
In a recent editorial, Richard Haas, president of the
Council on Foreign Relations, said the aftermath of
Katrina will "inevitably" increase political pressure on
Bush to reduce his involvement in Iraq and spend more to
rebuild or improve the country's capacity to deal with
Even before Katrina stuck, there were increasing
concerns about the effectiveness of the Iraq effort,
which has gobbled nearly $200 billion US and claimed the
lives of nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan's vigil last month near
Bush's Texas ranch also renewed national focus on the
war and its toll on the 140,000 soldiers there.
But analysts say it was clearly Katrina that sparked an
abrupt spike in discontent, against the backdrop last
week of the deadliest day in Baghdad since the March
2003 invasion, when more than 150 people were killed in
And the hurricane catastrophe has supplied renewed
energy for anti-war groups planning massive rallies in
the U.S. capital this weekend.
Some groups are now specifically targeting individual
U.S. legislators on the issue of whether they're soft on
"The terrible tragedy of Katrina brought a silver lining
and that's more scrutiny of Bush's foreign and domestic
policy," said Bill Dobbs, media co-ordinator for United
for Peace and Justice.
"We've got to put Congress on the hot seat. Congress
gave George Bush the authority and money to wage this
war. Now they have to hold him accountable."
And that's exactly the president's weak spot, said
Cushman, who notes that much of the war costs have been
borrowed and China holds a lot of the U.S. debt.
"Even considering the Reagan deficits, which were
enormous, these guys make them look like pikers," he
said. "They're spending money like drunken sailors."
The question, said Cushman, is whether Democrats can
mount an effective case against waste and abusive
government in next year's elections.
That kind of campaign worked well on the flip side for
former speaker Newt Gingrich, credited with in 1994 with
marshalling the electoral success that allowed
Republicans to take control of the House of
Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
"Democrats might actually get their act together now.
There's a counter-case to be made," said Cushman.
"It could be a very compelling indictment of malfeasance
and incompetence in office."