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What do the troops think?

April 22, 2007

Tim wonders what the troops really think of the war in Iraq and President Bush’s leadership thereof, referencing an Army times poll from last December. I myself had wondered where Senator Webb had come up with his numbers for the statement

“The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought. Nor does the majority of our military.”

(BTW, I tuned in for the State of the Union as much to see his rebuttal as anything else. I was really floored when he brought out income inequality as a major issue. Not that Democrats favor equality over anything else!)

This brought me to the analysis of the Army Times poll (a Ganett publication) in the Mudville Gazette. Please read it all, bearing with whatever server problems they are having over there.

It’s true there is some ambivalence about the war and Bush’s leadership in this poll. Greyhawk found the raw data and unpacked it a bit and I think his analysis of it is well-supported. First major observation: this poll was taken before the surge was announced. Greyhawk asserts, and I agree, that a poll taken now would likely be significantly more positive. This is because

(t)hese numbers – while much more positive than results from civilian polls – probably also reflect an assumption that then-current strategy would remain constant – an assumption already proven faulty. Based on responses to the next question, the results might be even more favorable if this same question were asked today.

We currently have 145,000 troops in Iraq and Kuwait. How many troops do you think we should have there?

All responses / Iraq vets
0: 121 / 60
0-50,000: 69 / 42
50,000 – 144,000: 56 / 38
145,000: 122 / 70
146,000-200,000: 208 / 100
200,000+: 155 / 78
No opinion/don’t know: remainder

Note the largest group – both the Iraq vets and non-Iraq vets categories – favored (even prior to the announcement) an increase in troops consistent with the “surge” plan numbers.

Again, theses results were obtained prior to the announcement of the surge. “The majority of the military no longer supports the way this war is being fought” might have been an accurate statement at that time, it may be less so now. And the reasons for that lack of support might not be ones that certain members of congress want to hear.

As for the TPM Cafe post which says it was “baseless” for Bush to have asserted the troops want to stay in Iraq, I find that comment absurd. Yes, perhaps they think we should leave if we’re not going to fight to win (militarily and politically), but that in my mind could be as much a reflection of their despair over anti-war carping and defeatism from the Democrats as much as anything else. Try asking them their opinion of congress!

Wait, they did:

Well it’s only two guys. And probably “no comment” is the best answer for these types of questions.

As Greyhawk points out “Re-enlistment rates have exceeded goals for the duration of the Iraq war – so far.” That’s the real number to watch. I know there’s plenty of quotes you could pull for an opposing view but I think it’s a fantasy to say that the military doesn’t want to win. Why not just say “I want them out, I’m sorry they feel differently”.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim C permalink
    April 23, 2007 10:02 am

    Hey Dave:

    OK, I was primarily wondering if there was better polling data on the military other than the Military Times polling. It still seems like that is the latest word, albeit 4 months old, and pre-surge.

    And I’d question if “some ambivalence” is the best description of that poll:

    *Only 41% said we should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place…
    *Only 47% said Iraq is a part of the war on terrorism, evenly split with those who call it “entirely separate.”
    *Only 35% were approving of the job W has done up until then in leading the war
    *Only 50% think it very or somewhat likely to “succeed” in Iraq, the rest think it unlikely, very unlikely, or give no answer.

    True, those numbers may have shifted in the last 4 months, but given the mixed results of the surge so far, it’s hard to imagine them shifting THAT much. And “may have” his the key words there, we simply have no data on that.

    And you didn’t quote the TPM Cafe posting quite accurately: they said that Bush’s statement that the troops want to stay “until the job is finished.”
    And the TPM Cafe posting reads less absurd that you think:

    If only half of the miliary think that it is even likely that the “job CAN be finished,” and the other half think it unlikely or VERY unlikely that it CAN be finished successfully, then where is the basis for Bush’s overly broad statements?

    You say: “I know there’s plenty of quotes you could pull for an opposing view but I think it’s a fantasy to say that the military doesn’t want to win.”

    Of course they want to “win” – all sides want Iraq to succeed as a nation – but at least 4 months ago, only half of the troops thought it was even likely. Unless there is better data coming soon, that is what the data says.

    Believing other than what the actual data says is by definition, fantasy.

    And as to re-enlistment rates as a guide to the troops core attitudes being different than this poll, I’m not so sure. If it were independently so strong, then why would the military need to soar the re-enlistment bonuses to 1 billion dollars this year – a six fold increase in bonuses since the start of the war – simply to hit their recruitment goals?

    Better to wait for REAL DATA to come in, rather than to use the “wishes of the troops” as a club to beat the other side with.

    (PS. relating to your dig at Webb for talking about inequality…name one place in his speech where he was talking up “equality of outcome” vs. “equality of opportunity.” In fact, mostly he wasn’t talking about either, but about the problem of a declining middle class in a globalized marketplace… Here is the transcript:,2933,246178,00.html)

  2. April 23, 2007 10:55 am

    Tim-Fair enough but I’d like to see you grapple with the effects of the defeatist pronouncements by your party of choice on our military. It may be true many don’t think we can win, but that very well may be because they percieve that half our leadership is heavily invested in failure.

    The TPM post also points out the inadequacies of this poll, which I agree with.

    The thing about polls, for the umpteenth time, is that they are a snapshot in time at best. Things can change. This same group of publications also showed that the military overwhelmingly supported Bush of Kerry- something like 80/20. The subsequent squishiness of the administration, combined with the non-stop defeatism and calls for withdrawl, could account for some of the discouragement in this poll.

    I’m sure some discouragement is also from the seemingly intractible hostility and barbarism on part of too many of the Iraqis. There are obviously serious questions as to the governability of the nation. That too goes towards the pessimissm.

    “That is what the data says”. I think you can read into it several ways. Next.

  3. Tim C permalink
    April 24, 2007 3:39 pm

    Ok, Grec, You wrote:

    “….but I’d like to see you grapple with the effects of the defeatist pronouncements by your party of choice on our military. It may be true many don’t think we can win, but that very well may be because they percieve that half our leadership is heavily invested in failure.”

    Well, happy to grapple with the question, which I think is:

    “Is the drop in the troops view that success in Iraq was even likely due in substantial measure to the ‘they perceive that the Democratic leaders are heavily invested in failure.’ ”

    Until we find better, the best data still comes from the Military Times polling over the years of the war, I think.

    (and insert here all the caveats about the data being 4 months old, pre-surge, etc, here)

    Here are the past polls over the years archived:

    So since the 2004 poll, there was a 53% drop in the troops that thought success in Iraq was even likely…down to 50% over 24 months.

    And it also showed a dramatic downturn in the those who troops who believed that “the US should have gone to war with Iraq” in the fist place … This showed a 19% drop down to 41%…

    These polls also showed over the same time period:

    …a 35% drop in those who had a positive view of Bush’s war leadership…down to 35%
    …a 16% drop in those who thought that the “civilian military leadership has my best interests at heart” down to 32%.
    … and there was a 14% drop in troops that self-identified as Republicans
    …Likewise, political viewpoints shifted… Those self-identifying as Conservatives saw a drop of 9% down to 45%….


    …,It also showed a small bump of 4% in those identifying as Democrats.
    … NO DROP in moderates or liberal ideology in the troops – actually a slight liberal bump of about 2%.

    So it seems odd to me to blame troop’s change of view on being demoralized by “defeatist Democratic leadership” when over the course of the war the troops became MARKEDLY LESS Republican, and LESS conservative, MUCH LESS trusting of Bush’s war leadership, and LESS trusting of his Civilian Military leadership… and at the same time slightly MORE moderate and liberal, slightly MORE identified with the Democratic Party.

    If the 53% drop in the troops belief that success in the Iraq is “even likely” was in large part to blame on them feeling that the “democratic half of the government doesn’t support them” you’d expect the opposite results wouldn’t you?

    Doesn’t the data fit much more with disappointment and disillusionment with the Republican half relating to their leadership, direction and execution of the Iraq war and later occupation?

  4. Tim C. permalink
    May 27, 2007 8:54 pm

    One more article from the International Herald Tribune, hardly statistical proof, on at least why some of the US forces had shown the drop in belief in the possiblity of success in iraq listed in the above military times polls we discussed above…

    here are some key quotes:

    With few reliable surveys of soldiers’ attitudes, it is impossible to simply extrapolate from the small number of soldiers in Delta Company.

    But in interviews with more than a dozen soldiers over a one-week period, most said they were disillusioned by repeated deployments, by what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop.

    They had seen shadowy militia commanders installed as Iraqi Army officers, they said, had come under increasing attack from roadside bombs – planted within sight of Iraqi Army checkpoints – and had fought against Iraqi soldiers whom they thought were their allies.

    “In 2003, 2004, 100 percent of the soldiers wanted to be here, to fight this war,” said Sergeant First Class David Moore, a self-described “conservative Texas Republican” and platoon sergeant who strongly advocates an American withdrawal. “Now, 95 percent of my platoon agrees with me.”

    and later in the article:

    Rogers admits that, “the 29th was a watershed moment in a negative sense, because the Iraqi Army would not fight with us,” he said, adding that “some actually picked up weapons and fought against us.” The battle changed the attitude among his soldiers toward the war, he said.

    “Before that fight, there were a few true believers.” Rogers said. “After the 29th, I don’t think you’ll find a true believer in this unit. They’re paratroopers. There’s no question they’ll fulfill their mission. But they’re fighting now for pride in their unit, professionalism, loyalty to their fellow soldier and chain of command.”

    To O’Flarity, the Iraqi security forces are militias beholden to local leaders, not the Iraqi government. “Half of the Iraqi security forces are insurgents,” he said.

    As for his views on the war, O’Flarity said, “I don’t believe we should be here in the middle of a civil war.”

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