A U.S. Marine cries during the memorial service for 31 killed U.S. servicemen at Camp Korean Village, near Rutbah, western Iraq, on Feb. 2, 2005. Thirty Marines and one sailor died on Jan. 26, 2005 when their helicopter crashed near Rutbah while conducting security operations. This photo was used in the documentary ?The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends,? a study of the psychological toll the war takes on troops. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - The findings of an unprecedented poll of U.S. troops in Iraq are certain to add to steadily growing pressures on the Bush administration to accelerate Washington’s withdrawal from a country that is increasingly seen as being on the verge of civil war.
Along with signs of disaffection and confusion in military ranks, recent surveys of public opinion at home have shown growing pessimism about the war. Even some of President George 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 Center for Peace and Global Studies and the Zogby International polling firm, found that more than half of U.S. troops in Iraq (51 percent) favor 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 Pres. Bush himself.
According to a New York Times-CBS poll released Feb. 28, Pres. 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 with 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 to prepare for the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, has also prompted a growing number of defections from the party’s ranks.
“One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed,” Mr. Buckley, a right-wing heavyweight for decades, wrote recently 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 the recent violence was “sufficient proof that post-Saddam nation-building has failed. President 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, neoconservative activists who led the campaign to invade Iraq have been trying hard in recent 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 favorite 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 favor withdrawal within six months.
The respondents 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 Pres. 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 Pres. 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 5 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.”
“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 Mr. 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?”
Mr. Zogby said he was confident 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 authorized nor cooperated with the survey, had no comment.
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