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Americans Remain Skeptical After Bush Iraq Speech - 2002-10-08

President Bush spoke to the American people Monday night, trying to explain why Iraq poses what he calls, "a grave threat to peace." This week, both houses of the U.S. Congress are expected a approve a resolution authorizing Mr. Bush take military action against Iraq. But the latest opinion polls suggest many Americans are skeptical of the need for such action.

As a television show, Mr. Bush's speech did not find the audience the White House was probably hoping for. It was aired on cable news networks in the United States, but most of the main commercial television networks opted to air their usual programming instead.

In downtown Chicago Tuesday morning, we could find few people who watched the speech. The sampling was not scientific, but those who did see the speech said they were hoping to find out why Iraq was a big enough threat to warrant a possible U.S.-led invasion.

Bruce Gingras of suburban Chicago said he was disappointed. "I still do not think he made his case," he said. "Just because someone possesses things is not carte blanche to go right in and take someone out like that."

Mr. Bush repeated charges he has made in the past that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons, and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. At a coffee shop in downtown Chicago, Chris Keys says the president did not say anything new or anything that convinced him that attacking Iraq is necessary.

"Well, he gave out more specifics last night than he had previously. It is still not really clear to me that Iraq is a kind of threat that would warrant a preemptive strike, which is something that I think would set a dangerous precedent for other countries," he said.

Public opinion polls suggest the American public is becoming more skeptical of the need to send U.S. troops to Iraq to disarm that country and possibly drive its leader, Saddam Hussein, from power. A Gallup poll released Monday suggests 53 percent of Americans favor a U.S.-led ground invasion or Iraq. That is down from 61 percent in June and 74 percent last November.

Aside from establishing Iraq as a future threat, Mr. Bush offered evidence of Iraqi links to the al-Qaida terrorist organization. Chicagoan Sam McGee was watching the speech, but says he does not see the link.

"I do not understand any of the relationship between Iraq and this terrorist attack [September 11th] in New York City," he said. "That is what I think is the most scandalous thing: trying to tie the two together. I just do not think they are related at all and I think the priorities are misguided," he said.

But many Americans do agree with the president that Iraq poses a threat and the U.S. Congress is expected this week to authorize President Bush to use force against Iraq if diplomacy fails to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction. One man we spoke to at a Chicago train station says he supports such action, and thinks the matter has been debated enough in Washington.