- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The start of the new year will see the war in Iraq into its 22nd month — a length of time much longer than anticipated by either the administration or the military, yet still shorter than most major American wars. For months now, the media has shown a spotlight on the supposed growing resistance among military personnel to the war, citing rising desertion rates and the refusal of many to redeploy. Individual cases are highlighted as representative of a demoralized military on the brink of mutiny. Were it true, it would be more than troubling. Fortunately, it’s not.

A new poll conducted by the Military Times found that 63 percent of active-duty personnel approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, with 60 percent convinced that the war is worth fighting — a number slightly higher among Iraq combat veterans. Although these numbers might at first appear surprising, they shouldn’t be. Mr. Bush enjoyed overwhelming support from the military throughout the election, even as the situation in Iraq worsened. But, unlike other voting blocs, Mr. Bush and the Republicans cannot take the military vote for granted. Especially with U.S. troops in harm’s way, our soldiers at home and abroad must necessarily judge their commander in chief on his commitment to their well-being. That they still support him is a very bright feather in Mr. Bush’s cap and perhaps indicative of the administration’s efforts on behalf of the military.

Their continuing support should also stand as a rebuttal to all those arguing that the military is undergoing a situation in Iraq similar to what happened in Vietnam. The effort by the media to cast the Iraq war as the second, tragic act of Vietnam should, if true, resonate with the men and women most affected. Judging by their responses in the poll, it does not. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed said that they’re satisfied with their jobs, and if given the opportunity today, only a quarter would leave service. As the Military Times points out, support for the war and job satisfaction remain essentially unchanged from a year ago, when the war in Iraq appeared to be going better.

The most obvious conclusion to draw from these numbers is that members of our armed services do not read publications like the New York Times with their morning coffee. A typical Times piece on the sufferings of the military came earlier this month in a front-page story, which predicted “a potential deluge of tens of thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq with serious mental health problems brought on by stress and carnage of war.” Following standard Times protocol, the article made multiple comparisons between the Iraq war and Vietnam. Though mental stress is an unfortunate and inevitable result of all wars, the media’s anxiety that our troops are being ignored by their superiors and the administration seems unfounded, aside from a few bits of anecdotal evidence.

Nor does it seem likely that the military buys into the view expressed by Times’ columnist Bob Herbert on Monday that “the war in Iraq was the result of powerful government figures imposing their dangerous fantasies on the world.” In two instances, those men and women most affected are much more optimistic about the war than the average American. The Military Times found that 60 percent still feel that the United States should have gone to war with Iraq, and 83 percent think that it is somewhat likely or very likely that we will succeed.

On another front, the poll revealed that members of the active-duty military understand much better than the elite media do government failure and oversight. A vast majority said that punishment stemming from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal that broke last spring should be directed at either those soldiers directly involved or those officers in direct command. Sixty percent also say that Congress, not the administration, is responsible for the lack of body armor and armored vehicles — a problem recently placed at the feet of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

These are encouraging signs, both on the front lines and here at home. A military that supports the administration is just as important in times of war as an administration that supports the military. Americans should be heartened that as violence escalates in Iraq, with more U.S. troops being sent overseas, our military stands firm and resolved to finish the task at hand.

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