POSTSCRIPT / August 22, 2004 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Iraq war might cost Bush the presidency

COSTLY WAR: If you are wondering if the US invasion and occupation of Iraq will affect President George W. Bush’s chances of reelection this November, the answer appears from all indications to be “Most Likely.”

Before we give you the latest survey findings on how Americans relate to the war, you might want to look at these CNN statistics first:

  1. Of the 1,087 coalition deaths (as of Aug. 20, 2004), 957 were Americans. The others were 65 Britons, six Bulgarians, one Dane, two Dutch, one Estonian, one Hungarian, 19 Italians, one Latvian, nine Poles, one Salvadoran, three Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and eight Ukrainians.
  2. As for the financial cost of the war, the latest CNN figure we saw at 5 p.m. yesterday was at least $128.726 billion (the figure keeps moving up as we watched it on the computer screen). Imagine what the money could have done in the field of health, education, welfare, et cetera.

The words of the late President Dwight D Eisenhower on April 16, 1953, come to mind: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

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NEW SURVEY SAYS: The latest of the periodic surveys of the Maryland-based PIPA/Knowledge Networks has found a significant decline in the number of Americans supporting the White House decision to invade Iraq.

The percentage saying that the US made the “right decision” in attacking Iraq has slipped 9 percentage points to just 46 percent from 55 percent in March, a level that had been sustained consistently since November 2003.

For the first time, half (49 percent) of respondents said that going to war was the “wrong decision.” Those who said that the decision was the “best” thing to do dropped to 33 percent from the 40 percent in March.

Fifty-two percent said that it would have been better pursuing al-Qaeda and stabilizing Afghanistan, rather than pursuing the Iraq war. Only 39 percent thought invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the better use of resources.

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ERODED SUPPORT: Steven Kull, PIPA director, comments: “Though the public hears the Bush administration still saying that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and gave substantial support to al-Qaeda, since the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee reports, more Americans have doubts and support for the decision to go to war has eroded.”

Perceptions of expert opinion on pre-war Iraq have also changed. In March, only 15 percent perceived most experts saying that Iraq was not providing substantial support to al-Qaeda. Now 29 percent have this perception.

Before these reports, only 34 percent perceived most experts saying Iraq did not have WMDs. Now 43 percent have this perception.

Kull said that another key change that appears to be contributing to the declining support for the Iraq war is a growing perception that world public opinion opposes the US invading Iraq.

The percentage assuming that majority in the world disapproves of the US invasion has risen from 41 percent in March to 50 percent today. This is the first time there has been such upward movement since the question was first asked in July 2003.

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WITHDRAWAL?: The number of Americans who want to reduce US troops in Iraq has also risen to 53 percent from 39 percent in November. The percentage wanting to withdraw completely is also up 9 percentage points, but still stands at only 24 percent.

But while many commentators assume that the rising number of US troop fatalities would impact attitudes about the war, this does not appear to be the case.

Respondents were asked to estimate the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq. Those who made estimates well above the correct level were no more likely to oppose the decision to go to war. They were also no more likely to want to withdraw US troops or to withdraw before a democracy has been fully established in Iraq.

The survey showed that the American public is divided on whether President Bush misled the public in rousing the nation to go to war.

Half of the respondents still believe that Iraq had at least a major WMD program and was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda.

However, among those who do not have such beliefs, 79 percent believe that Bush deliberately misled the public in the runup to the war and 70 percent say that they are less likely to vote for him as a result of his handling of Iraq.

The poll was conducted with a nationwide sample of 733 respondents Aug. 5-11, 2004, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent. Funding was provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ford Foundation.

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BUT WHY IRAQ?: As addendum to that those numbers, many thoughtful Americans are asking what Iraq has to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon.

As this writer has been saying the past two years in this column and in various forums here and in the US, the attack on Iraq was not a case of self-defense nor an instance of hot pursuit.

Iraq was attacked by Bush one year after 9/11, almost like an afterthought or a malicious change of mind.

Most of the suicide bombers who flew the captured jetliners into their target buildings in New York and Virginia were from Saudi Arabia, where the Bushes have extensive business (oil) interests. None of the attackers was an Iraqi.

Yet no Saudi was touched. In fact, Saudi associates of Osama bin Laden were allowed to exit America. Saudi Arabia was left alone.

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WAR PRESIDENT: The first target of the posse organized by Bush was Afghanistan, presumably because Osama bin Laden (a Saudi multibillionaire) and the al-Queda, which was linked to the attacks, were holed up in Afghanistan with the Taliban.

How come suddenly Bush turned his sights on Saddam Hussein and Iraq, when that country lying quietly halfway around the globe was never linked to the 9/11 attack nor shown to have presented an imminent threat to the US at that time?

Bush said Saddam had WMDs aimed at America. But after gaining control of every inch of ground in that occupied territory, UN and US inspectors using sophisticated gadgets have not found any.

Bush, the war president, has a lot to explain to the American public. And he has not been able to do it convincingly.

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ROMULO REACTION: Reacting to a reader’s comments on him published in POSTSCRIPT, Mr. Roberto R. Romulo sent this letter to PhilSTAR editor-in-chief Isaac G. Belmonte:

“I must protest yet again the policy and practices of your newspaper. After denying me the space to reply to the scurrilous attacks against me by Mr. Maximo Soliven and other columnists of your paper, you have generously allocated in Federico Pascual’s column today ( Postscript 17 August) all the space to a lengthy attack against me from an unnamed reader.

“I would be more than happy to reply to this latest litany of drivel, but after checking with the former Philippine Press Council chairman, Marvin Tort, I was informed that the letter was only sent by e-mail to him and carried no address and had an apparently fictitious author. For this reason, the council never formally took it up. This e-mail, it turns out, has been going the rounds for some weeks now, in a desperate effort to counter the serious issues I raised in my letter to the PPC.

“Many serious journalists as well as the Makati Business Club have commented thoughtfully on the circumstances and the issues that have led me to file a libel complaint against Mr. Soliven and the STAR. While you still have to respond to the questions raised or explain the policies of your paper, you continue to allow my detractors to abuse me under the shield of anonymity.

“If the Star is fair and serious about getting to the bottom of this controversy, it should not stop at just publishing this hatchet-job of a letter, it should also consider publishing my letter to the Philippine Press Council, complete and unabridged. Then your readers will have basis to judge who is really telling the truth and who is fabricating vicious lies.

“I continue to hope for the day when the Star will live up to its declared mission and proud tradition.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 22, 2004)

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