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Backing Bush All the Way, Up to but Not Into Iraq

By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Aug. 2 A lifelong Republican, Tom Meaker worked on Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, served as a Marine officer in Vietnam and now owns a small printing company. His vote helped George W. Bush carry Arizona in 2000.

But ask Mr. Meaker about the Bush administration's not-so-veiled hints of plans to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, and party loyalty evaporates in the afternoon heat.

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"How many countries are there in the world?" Mr. Meaker said without waiting for an answer. "How many dictators are there? How many terrible places are there? That's the problem. We pick and choose our evils. There are so many places to go, so why are we going to commit ourselves to this one?"

This may be solid Bush country, an upscale Phoenix suburb where the favorite flavor of Republican is conservative and independents lean to the right. But these days, the president's popularity comes with an asterisk that could portend huge political risks for an administration convinced that another military action against Iraq is necessary and worthwhile.

Two dozen interviews over two days here found some people favoring a strike against Mr. Hussein to prevent him from using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies.

But many more argued against an American offensive. Democrats and political independents interviewed were nearly unanimous in their opposition to an invasion, and most Republicans felt the same way. People interviewed also faulted the administration for failing to develop a rationale for mounting an attack against a country the president has said is part of "an axis of evil."

Like Mr. Meaker, Cindy Morrow, manager of a shoe store here, said she was not convinced that attacking Iraq would do much to calm the Middle East or eradicate terrorism. She also expressed fear that a war with Iraq could widen anti-American sentiment and incite further attacks against the United States.

"To me, it's really scary," said Ms. Morrow, a Republican. "War really opens up a can of worms for us. You don't know where it will go next, whether it could lead to a third world war or what. My son is 13, my daughter is 8. It worries me to think about what's ahead for them. I don't know how you solve these things, but there have to be other ways than war, fighting and all this craziness."

Others said they believed that the administration was forging ahead with efforts to depose Mr. Hussein because the first Bush administration failed to do so in 1991.

"I've got to believe that George Bush, like everybody else, is the sum of a lot of parts," Mr. Meaker said of the current president. "He is his father's son, and like any son, he wants to make his dad proud. Sept. 11 gave him the excuse to focus on something."

Joe Ficklin, a Republican who was visiting from Houston, said that while he would consider supporting an attack, the administration had yet to make a compelling case for any military action.

Mr. Ficklin, a sales manager, said he worried that Mr. Bush might proceed with an invasion without "credible evidence" that Mr. Hussein was intending to use his arsenal of weapons against the United States and its allies. He also expressed concern that the administration would act unilaterally, without coalition partners from Europe and Asia.

"For the administration just to say they have weapons capable of mass destruction, that is not enough," Mr. Ficklin said. "We need to be convinced either that Iraqis directly supported the Al Qaeda network or that they intend to use their weapons of mass destruction against us. Maybe we have the intelligence reports that officials will not or cannot divulge, but they are going to have to tell the public that there is a direct threat against us, within our own borders, and not against this embassy or that embassy."

Tim Lindner, a retired program manager for I.B.M. living in Scottsdale, was also troubled by the lack of a strong case against Mr. Hussein. Like many people interviewed, he questioned whether the administration was focused on Mr. Hussein at the expense of other threats. While some of those interviewed wondered why the administration had not taken a harder line with Saudi Arabia, where many of the September hijackers came from, Mr. Lindner, a Republican, used another ruler to make his case.

"How different is he than the guy in Libya?" said Mr. Lindner of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, whose country was implicated in the bombing of a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, 14 years ago. "He's a known agitator in the world community. We've tolerated him and still do. What I don't understand is, at what point do you cross the line?"

Mr. Lindner was sitting in a coffee shop with a former colleague from I.B.M., Jim Garadis, a Republican from San Jose, Calif., who said he was not convinced that the United States should invade Iraq either.

"What we need is James Bond to go in there and get more information," Mr. Garadis said. "Once we have more information, then we can decide what to do. How can you act with misinformation or no information?"

Monica Pereira, a high school teacher, said she doubted that moderate forces would rise to power if Mr. Hussein were to fall.

"It's better to deal with the devil you know than one you don't know," Ms. Pereira said. "We don't know anything about the others."

While several people said they would back administration plans if more information convinced them the cause was just, only one expressed unconditional support for military action.

"We should have done this a long time ago," said Jan Phares, manager of a jewelry and fine arts shop and a Republican. "I don't want another 9/11, and he's very capable of doing that. I don't think he'd stop for a second if he thought he could. If we had finished the job in Iraq in the beginning, I don't think there would have been a 9/11."

Sipping iced tea in a cafe this morning, Tracy Zeiss, a restaurant owner, came to the same conclusion as her friend Patricia Giordano, an elementary school teacher, but from a different perspective. Ms. Zeiss is a Democrat; Ms. Giordano, a Republican.

"Absolutely not, it's a bad idea," Ms. Zeiss said of military action. "We had a chance in 1991. We didn't finish it, but let's move on. We have other things to do."

Ms. Giordano, who recently moved to Scottsdale from Rutherford, N.J., agreed.

"We have a million other things to think about," Ms. Giordano said. "Why stir this up again? Besides, no matter what we do, nothing is going to change. I don't know what the solution is, but we can't just bomb places and think that's going to take care of everything."


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