Troops Sound off

Military Times Poll finds high morale, but less support for Bush, war effort. Support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military's professional core, according to the 2005 Military T

Troops Sound off

Approval of the president's Iraq policy fell 9 percentage points from 2004; a bare majority, 54 percent, now say they view his performance on Iraq as favorable. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60 percent, among active-duty readers of the Military Times newspapers. Though support both for President Bush and for the war in Iraq remains significantly higher than in the public as a whole, the drop is likely to add further fuel to the heated debate over Iraq policy. In 2003 and 2004, supporters of the war in Iraq pointed to high approval ratings in the Military Times Poll as a signal that military members were behind President Bush's the president's policy.

 

The poll also found diminished optimism that U.S. goals in Iraq can be accomplished, and a somewhat smaller drop in support for the decision to go to war in 2003.

 

The mail survey, conducted Nov. 14 through Dec. 23, is the third annual effort by the Military Times to measure the opinions of the active-duty military on political and morale issues. The results should not be read as representative of the military as a whole; the survey's respondents are on average older, more experienced, more likely to be officers and more career-oriented than the military population. But the numbers are among the best measures of opinion in a difficult-to-survey population. The professional military seems to be lessening in its certainty about the wisdom of the Iraq intervention and the way it has been handled," said Richard Kohn, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina who studies civil-military relations. "This seems to be more and more in keeping with changes in public views, and that's not surprising."

 

The survey mirrors a similar shift in U.S. public opinion over the last year. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, for example, recorded an eight-point drop in public approval for Iraq policy, from 47 percent in November 2004 to 39 percent in December 2005.

The drops in support seen in the Military Times Poll are "real drops, but I see them as reflecting the tone of the country," said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland. "People in the military talk to folks back home. Eventually, the military does catch up [with public opinion]." Other changes from '04 Opinions on the president and Iraq weren't the only shifts in the 2005 poll:

 

• Positive feelings about Congress, civilian and uniformed Pentagon leaders and the media all fell.

• Respondents also were less likely than in the past to believe other segments of the country viewed the military favorably. In 2004, 37 percent said civilians viewed the military very favorably; that fell to 24 percent this year. Last year, 77 percent said politicians saw the military very or somewhat favorably; 63 percent said so this year.

• There was somewhat more support for opening military service to openly homosexual Americans: 59 percent said open homosexuals should not be allowed to serve, down six points from last year.

• Opposition to the draft fell slightly, from 75 percent last year to 68 percent this year.

• Nearly two-thirds said the military is stretched too thin to be effective, though that figure is down substantially from two years ago.

• Job satisfaction and approval of pay, health benefits, training and equipment remain high — though in many cases, the support is less enthusiastic than in past years, based on responses.

• For the first time in the three-year history of the poll, more than half of respondents said they had deployed in support of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Bu to be sure, support for the president and his policies remains stronger in the Military Times Poll than in surveys of the general public: The president's approval rating is as much as 20 percentage points higher than in the civilian population. Part of that difference is partisan: While roughly a third of Americans describe themselves as Democrats, just 13 percent of Military Times Poll respondents do so.

 

In follow-up interviews, most poll respondents said they remain solidly behind their commander in chief and his policy in Iraq.

"I think we're fortunate as a country to have someone who has the focus and the persistence that he does because it's so easy to get sidetracked," said Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bohler. "The ability of the president to persevere in the face of overwhelming criticism is really impressive. It takes someone with a spine and courage."

Many attributed the fall in support, both among the public and the military, withto a misguided lack of patience.

 

"We live in a society where … people want answers right away," said Air Force Capt. Randall Carlson, a physics instructor at the Air Force Academy, who said he approves of the president's policies. "Unfortunately with Iraq, there are no easy answers."

'They don't report good news' While 73 percent of respondents believe it's likely the United States will succeed in Iraq, that's down 10 points from a year ago.

"We're losing a lot of troops. The suicide bombers are not stopping," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Melida G. Castano. "It doesn't look promising at this point."

But others blamed the loss in confidence on the media, which many said hled to report positive news in Iraq. Four of every five respondents said they believe media reports are often inaccurate.

"They don't report the good news, and if they do, it's on the back page," said Marine Chief Warrant Officer-3 Michael Edmonson.

 

Though the number of respondents who have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan was up 17 percentage points from a year ago, to 61 percent, that does not seem to have significantly affected opinions on Iraq. There was no significant difference in opinions between those who have deployed and those who haven't, and responses from the Army and Marine Corps — the services under the most strain in Iraq — were not mufferent from other services.

Kohn, the University of North Carolina researcher, said the shifting opinions on Iraq may simply reflect shifts in the rest of the country. But he said he believes military opinions are at least partially insulated from civilian trends.

"The military is very capable of drawing differing judgments from the general population," he said. "Military people think about these things with considerable sophistication. That is also sometimes undermined by their instinct to be loyal to the administration — any administration — to the government and to the mission."

As the previous two years, Military Times Poll respondents were reluctant to express opinions, even anonymously, about the commander in chief or is policies. About one in five refused to say whether they approved of the esident's performance on Iraq or overall.

"That's my boss," Army Lt. Col. Earnestine Beatty said in a follow-up interview. "I can't comment." Kohn said he worried that asking such questions of military members and publishing the results could tarnish the military's image as a nonpartisan institution.

Source: Military city

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