Bush...Losing Support For War
Many die-hard Republicans shaking their heads over Bush, war.
Oceanside, San Diego County - Dennis Dalbey, armed with scissors, an electric hair clipper and a steady hand, has given dozens of Camp Pendleton's young Marines the regulation haircut before they head to combat in Iraq.
In his Cut-Rite Barbershop on the Coast Highway, he wears his loyalty to those customers openly - the business is adorned with painted yellow ribbons, flags and "We support our troops" banners.
But these days, Dalbey, a Republican and a self-described conservative who voted for President Bush, is not nearly as supportive of the commander in chief.
"Enough is enough," he said of the war while showing Lance Cpl. Aaron Kernell, 19, from Tennessee, to a red Naugahyde chair for a cut. "If they haven't got this thing settled by year's end, it's time to bring the boys home."
As the nation marks the third anniversary of the country's entry into the Iraq war, Dalbey's deeply felt pessimism echoes through a region that remains California's most loyal Republican stronghold. The feelings, from California voters who have backed Bush, underscore the depth of political troubles for the president and his party in a year of midterm congressional elections.
With the war still raging, and the public growing increasingly sour over the outlook, Bush's approval ratings have plummeted. The once-positive images of the president and his party, which controls both houses of Congress, have been shredded in the wake of controversies ranging from the Dubai port deal to the response to Hurricane Katrina to lobbying scandals.
The president last week took to the stump to plead with Americans about the necessity for resolve in Iraq. But a tour through congressional districts of California's Inland Empire and northern San Diego County - Republican-dominated districts that have voted twice for the president - found surprisingly strong doubts about the president and his war policies.
While many conservative voters who spoke with The Chronicle remain supportive of America's military men and women, an increasing number are disillusioned with the nation's leader. And from the VFW halls to the local cafes, an increasing number in the region are expressing a profound concern about the human and financial costs of the continued Iraq conflict.
Oceanside's homes and businesses support the 60,000 military personnel and civilians who work at Camp Pendleton, home to the I Marine Expeditionary Force and the 1st Marine Division. At GI Joe's Military Surplus, just up the street from Dalbey's barbershop, owner Robert Anderson shares the pessimistic sentiments about the war. Another self-described conservative Republican who voted for Bush twice, Anderson is a military booster who sells "camo" pants and offers uniform dry cleaning for his Marine clientele. He shakes his head when asked about Iraq.
"We've done what we needed to do," he said. "We could spend 10 years there and get the same thing. ... It doesn't matter, it won't change. These guys have been fighting each other for generations, and they're going to hate us no matter what."
In nearby San Marcos, Herb Ranquist, 77, a retired Navy veteran perched on a stool in the local VFW hall, is equally perturbed, saying, "If we're going to war, we ought to do it right. If we let the generals and admirals do the job, we'd do OK.
"I voted for him two times, and I wish I hadn't," Ranquist said of the president. "It was probably one of the worst mistakes I ever made."
Ranquist recalls how on May 1, 2003, Bush stood on an aircraft carrier off the coast near San Diego - backed by a sign that said "Mission Accomplished" - and proclaimed that "major combat operations in Iraq are over."
"I remember that," he said softly. "We all remember it."
The Iraq war "did not protect us after 9/11. (Bush) was supposed to get bin Laden," said Marilyn Joy Shephard, 62, of Escondido, who has been a registered Republican since the Reagan era.
"But he wanted to go into Iraq, and I don't know why," she said. "I absolutely don't feel safer."
Shephard, a former high school teacher and financial adviser, survived the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center from the 66th floor of the second tower to be struck by a jetliner. Shephard said she ran down 66 floors and rushed outside - only to see a young woman who had jumped from the skyscraper land on the ground nearby. She recalls in painful detail the sights, sounds and smells of that attack, adding, "I even still have the 9/11 cough."
Shephard is bitter that the president "squandered his political capital" on a conflict that has tallied 2,300 American deaths, thousands wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.
"It has been a wanton squandering, a waste of humanity," Shephard said. "It's a national disgrace."
Tellingly, Shephard was one of a handful of Republicans in Escondido attending a house party for a Democrat, Francine Busby, a school board member from Cardiff-by-the-Sea who hopes to win the solidly Republican 50th congressional district seat vacated by GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham after his conviction on corruption charges. A special election is scheduled for April 11.
Jerry Gould, 65, a retired pharmacist and a 40-year registered Republican also attending the party, was angered with Cunningham, his party and his president's performance on the war.
"I'm incredibly unhappy with the poor planning, and the thousands of people who've gotten killed," Gould said. "(Bush) had no idea of an exit strategy. They're dealing with a culture they don't understand ... and I have a sick feeling that 20 years from now, another Saddam (Hussein) will be in power. The guy with the biggest gun will prevail."
Yet despite the doubts, there remains a core of Republicans in the area who are stalwarts for the president and the Iraq mission.
One is Howard Kaloogian, a Republican candidate for the 50th congressional district seat who said he isn't surprised that loyal Republicans are showing "a Vietnam-like fatigue" on the war. The media and the president are to blame, he said.
"He's doing excellent on the prosecution of the war," Kaloogian said of Bush, "but he gets a D-minus on promotion of what we're doing there."
Kaloogian, sitting in a local restaurant in Rancho Bernardo while he met with supporters, said his views on Iraq come in part from his fact-finding trip there last July with talk-show hosts and political activists.
"It's a country of 25 million and 25,000 terrorists," said Kaloogian, a former California assemblyman. "People there believe it's better today than under Saddam Hussein. ... There's no massacres (as there were) under his killing machine," and Iraqis are being trained to take over the country's security and military forces. Hospitals and schools are being built, the economy is coming back, and riding on a humvee in the country, he recalled, Americans are "greeted by kids like an ice cream truck."
The Bush administration "needs to get out the message" of the nation's achievements there, while the media should cover such positive outcomes more, he insisted. "People have to understand this progress takes time," he said.
Thomas Morrow, 52, of La Jolla - a Vietnam veteran and a card-carrying Republican - agreed. "I'm not the biggest fan of Bush right now," mostly because of his immigration policies, he said, but in Iraq - while "things aren't going as well as we'd hoped ... we're slowly getting the country back on its feet."
But the president, he said, "will not be able to resolve all the challenges there before the end of his term."
Back in the barber's chair at the Cut-Rite Barbershop in Oceanside, young Lance Cpl. Kernell is not focused on public opinion. He is a Marine with a job to do. He repairs helicopters and will leave for Iraq in July.
"You ever been over to the big sandbox?" Dalbey said.
Kernell shook his head from side to side.
"You never know what's going to happen," the young Marine said. "But we're not going to leave until it's finished."
Dalbey finished up the precision trim - and gave his customer a piece of advice.
"Just make sure," the barber said quietly, "that you hook up with somebody who has been there before."