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Americans respond to Bush speech with frustration, hope

By Erin McClam
AP National Writer

Saundra Clagett has spent days bouncing from one conclusion to another about what the United States should do about Iraq. She knew this much: She was glad it wasn't her decision.

So Clagett and her husband, both veterans, settled in Wednesday night to watch President Bush explain to the nation why he was sending 21,500 additional U.S. troops into the war. She listened, and was unconvinced.

"The bottom line is that we need to bring our troops home," Clagett said after the speech from her home in Fayetteville, N.C., near Fort Bragg. "I think we've done all that we can do. This is Iraq's civil war. There comes a time when they have to stand on their own."

Frustrated by mounting U.S. deaths in Iraq, looking for a way out or a way forward in the nearly four-year-old conflict, Americans considered Bush's plan Wednesday night and responded with a mixture of frustration and cautious, last-ditch hope.

Adam Pollet, a Harvard University student from Atlanta, rushed into the bar Cambridge Common to grab some friends, then focused his attention on Bush's prime-time address.

"I think he's trying to do the best he can," Pollet said, "but I don't think he has any idea that's better than anyone else's."

The reinforcements announced by Bush would bring the U.S. military presence in Iraq to more than 150,000 troops. The president also steeled the country for more violence and said he had made a mistake by not ordering more troops there last year.

Even among Americans who applauded Bush's decision to bolster the American military presence in Iraq, there were questions about why the reinforcements were only being sent now.

"I'd love to know what took him so long to come to this realization," said Wayne Muller, who watched the speech from his home in Raleigh, N.C., and whose son, Cpl. Danny Muller, serves in Iraq's volatile Anbar province.

"We either have to get the troops in there to get the job done or bring them home," Muller said.

Some who watched the speech said in interviews they were at least hopeful it might quell the raging violence in Iraq — even if they were unsure the troop surge would be effective.

"I have no idea if this is going to work, but he's got a plan — let's hope it does," money manager Richard Earl said at an upscale restaurant in the financial district of Miami.

At the same restaurant, mortgage lender Antonio Ortiz said, "We can't just leave."

In other places, there was less reserved support for Bush and the reinforcement strategy. At an American Legion post near Fort Hood, Texas, Vietnam veteran George Payntar said he backed the president's plan.

"I think we need to stop the terrorism, stop it there," said Payntar, whose daughter has been stationed in Iraq since October.

"If we pull out, they'll be here. I am afraid if we pull out now, we would lose the progress we made and the Iraqi people would suffer greatly."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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