Monday, March 20, 2006

Poll of US Troops in Iraq Underlines Growing Pressure to Withdraw

Inter Press Service News Agency
Poll of US Troops in Iraq Underlines Growing Pressure to Withdraw
Jim Lobe

Along with signs of disaffection and confusion in military ranks, recent surveys of public opinion at home have shown growing pessimism about the war, while even some of Bush's staunchest right-wing supporters, such as National Review founder William F. Buckley, are calling the president's Iraq adventure a failure.

The military survey, carried out between mid-January and mid-February by Le Moyne College's Centre for Peace and Global Studies and the Zogby International polling firm, found that more than half of U.S. troops in Iraq (51 percent) favour a full withdrawal either ‘'immediately'' (29 percent) or within six months (22 percent).

An additional 21 percent told interviewers that U.S. troops should leave Iraq between six and 12 months from now, while only 23 percent -- or less than one in four -- agreed with official Bush policy that the troops should stay ‘'as long as they are needed.''

The face-to-face survey of 944 military respondents, whose names and specific locations were withheld for security reasons, is the latest in a series of polls showing a continued erosion of support for the Iraq war, as well as for Bush himself.

According to a New York Times-CBS poll released Tuesday, Bush's public-approval ratings have fallen to an all-time low of 34 percent -- down eight points from January, and lower even than the 35 percent he held in a CBS poll last October in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Iraq, along with the controversy over the administration's approval of a Dubai company to take over the management of terminals in six major U.S. ports, appears to be a major part of the latest decline. Only 30 percent of respondents said they approved of his management of the situation there, compared to 65 percent who said they disapproved.

That result echoes a recent Gallup poll that found the public more pessimistic than ever about progress in the Iraq war: only 31 percent -- almost all of them self-identified Republicans -- said they thought Washington and its allies were winning there.

The rising tide of popular discontent with the Iraq war -- particularly amid growing signs that the country is moving toward civil war and steadily accumulating evidence that the administration failed totally to prepare for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion -- has also prompted a growing number of defections from the war party's ranks.

‘'One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed,'' Buckley, a right-wing heavyweight for decades, wrote last weekend after a surge of sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of an important Shia shrine swept through key Iraqi cities. ‘'(T)he kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.''

Several days later, another prominent right-winger, Bruce Fein, wrote in the Washington Times that last week's violence was ‘'sufficient proof that post-Saddam nation-building has failed. ├áPresident Bush should immediately begin an orderly withdrawal of U..S. troops from Iraq.''

In anticipation of these desertions, as well as declining public support for the war, neo-conservative activists who led the campaign to invade Iraq have been trying hard over the past two weeks to rally the public with a series of columns -- a remarkable number of them from Iraq ‘'with the troops'' -- extolling their grit, goodness and determination and warning against defeatism at home.

‘'Can-do Americans courageously go about their duty in Iraq -- mostly unafraid that a culture of 2,000 years, the reality of geography, the sheer forces of language and religion, the propaganda of state-run Arab media, and the cynicism of the liberal West are all stacked against them,'' wrote California classicist Victor Davis Hanson, a favourite of Vice President Dick Cheney, in the National Review Online.

‘'Iraq may not have started out as the pivotal front in the war between democracy and fascism, but it has surely evolved into that,'' he declared, stressing that Washington's current strategy should carry the day.

The new LeMoyne/Zogby poll, however, tells a somewhat different story, at least from the point of view of its military respondents, nearly 75 percent of whom were serving their second, third, or fourth six-month tour in Iraq at the time of their interview..

No less than 72 percent said U.S. troops should stay no longer than one year in Iraq. What is particularly remarkable is the 51 percent majority who favour withdrawal within six months. That corresponds precisely to the position of Democratic Rep. John Murtha, a highly decorated Marine veteran with long-standing ties to the military brass, whose impassioned appeals for a swift redeployment have been denounced by Hanson and other right-wing hawks in and outside the administration as surrender and a betrayal of the troops.

The respondents -- 41 percent regular Army; 25 percent Marines; and the rest National Guard and Reserves -- also showed uncertainty about their mission in Iraq.

While some 27 percent said they were ‘'very clear'' about the mission, nearly one third said they were ‘'somewhat clear,'' 20 percent ‘'somewhat unclear;'' and nearly 25 percent either ‘'very unclear,'' ‘'not sure,'' or had ‘'no understanding.''

Asked to assess the relative importance of the different justifications for the war articulated by Bush over the last several years, three in four soldiers said ‘'establish(ing) a democracy that could be a model for the Arab world'' -- the justification most recently cited by Bush -- was neither the ‘'main'' nor even a ‘'major reason'' for the U.S. intervention.

More than 90 percent also did not accept the justification most cited by the administration before the war -- to enforce U.N. resolutions requiring the destruction or removal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from Iraq. Less than five percent of respondents cited that as the ‘'main'' or a ‘'major reason.''

Remarkably, the two justifications most frequently mentioned by the troops were those that were discredited after the invasion. Forty-one percent said stopping ‘'Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq'' was the ‘'main reason,'' while another 36 percent said it was a ‘'major reason.'' At the same time, 35 percent said ‘'retaliat(ing) for Saddam's role in the 9/11 attacks'' was the ‘'main reason'', and 50 percent called it a ‘'major reason.''

Contrary to the administration's view, most troops also believe that controlling the insurgency -- which they see as overwhelmingly indigenous -- would require doubling the number of ground troops and bombing missions.

‘'The sense is that they're not necessarily really seeing themselves in this war fighting against al Qaeda, but more so fighting in the midst of what's turning out to be a civil war,'' said Zogby, who noted ominous parallels in soldiers' attitudes with the Vietnam War.

‘'These are the sorts of sentiments you started to hear and see impressionistically from troops coming home towards the end of Vietnam, the sense that why were we there in the first place, confusion, and what do we accomplish by staying there?''

Zogby said he was confident that the survey was representative of the troops serving in Iraq. ‘'We chose good locations; we used random sampling; the methodology was tight,'' he said. ‘'We stand by the results.''

The Pentagon, which neither authorised nor co-operated with the survey, had no comment. (FIN/2006)

originally published March 1, 2006