The Commander in Chief Has Lost the Troops

A unique poll of active-duty troops in Iraq shows a huge disconnect between the commander in chief and the troops in battle. It is evident that the president views the war very differently than the troops on the ground. The loss of the troops may be the final straw in the illegal occupation turned failed war. The foreign policy establishment had already told the president they thought the Iraq war was a mistake. The people have been saying the war was a mistake. All that is left are President Bush and the hawkish leaders of the two parties – only they are calling for staying the course or sending more troops.

A poll by Le Moyne College and Zogby shows that if you want to support the troops, you should be calling for an end to the war. An overwhelming majority, 72 percent, of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year. Among reserves, 90 percent favor withdrawal, compared to 83 percent of the National Guard, 70 percent of the Army, and 58 percent of the Marines. Moreover, about three-quarters of National Guard and Reserve units favor withdrawal within six months.

It seems Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.), who has called for a withdrawal to be completed within six months, is more in tune with the troops than their commander in chief is. In a speech given on Nov. 17, 2005, Murtha said:

“The war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public is way ahead of us. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq, but it is time for a change in direction. Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We can not continue on the present course.”

Even leading conservative commentators (Pat Buchanan, Francis Fukuyama, Paul Craig Roberts) now describe the invasion as a mistake and argue that the occupation has failed. William F. Buckley Jr. has called on the administration to admit defeat and change strategy.

The poll also shows that the troops are confused by the mission in Iraq. Forty-two percent acknowledge their confusion. And while 58 percent think they know why they are there, most are acting on inaccurate information. Eighty-five percent believe they are in Iraq “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks,” when in fact Saddam had no role in 9/11. And 77 percent of soldiers think the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq” – again, Saddam and al-Qaeda were never allies: indeed, they were enemies, the former secular and the latter religious.

At any rate, the troops have figured out that they are not there for the reason stated by the president: 93 percent recognize they are not there to remove weapons of mass destruction. The vast majority (76 percent) also do not believe that the United States is establishing a democracy that will be a model for the Arab world. But they do not believe that securing oil was the major purpose – only 11 percent accept that rationale.

Not only do an overwhelming majority of soldiers in Iraq want the occupation to end rapidly, but the foreign policy establishment of the United States is opposed to the war and is speaking out against the president’s policies. These include:

  • Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, a retired four-star general, was commander of the U.S. Central Command (1991-94) and of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf after the 1991 war, who described the Iraq War as “wrong from the beginning, and so as is often the case, it’s very hard to make it right once you start down the wrong road.”
  • Gen. William Odom, ret., former national security adviser to Presidents Carter and Reagan, who wrote “What’s Wrong with Cutting and Running?,” in which he persuasively argued that the war is serving the interests of Osama bin Laden and the Iranians, and is fomenting civil war in Iraq. He describes the Iraq war as “the most strategic foreign policy disaster in U.S. history.”
  • Brent Scowcroft, President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser, who described the Iraq war as a “failing venture” weeks before the last presidential election and argued in 2002, before the decision to invade Iraq, that: “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.”
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, who labeled Bush’s foreign policy “suicidal statecraft” in a Los Angeles Times commentary: “Flailing away with a stick at a hornets’ nest while loudly proclaiming ‘I will stay the course’ is an exercise in catastrophic leadership.”
  • John Deutch, head of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1995-96 and deputy defense secretary 1994-95, who called for U.S. troops to immediately leave Iraq in June 2005.

These are just a few among many. In fact, in March 2003, shortly before the war began, hundreds of retired military officers wrote President Bush requesting a meeting before a final decision was made to invade. They expressed grave concerns about a war with Iraq. Their letter foretold the future, saying:

“[W]e strongly question the need for a war at this time. Despite Secretary of State Colin Powell’s report to the Security Council and the testimony of others in the administration, we are not convinced that coercive containment has failed, or that war has become necessary.

“Our own intelligence agencies have consistently noted both the absence of an imminent threat from Iraq and reliable evidence of cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Again, we question whether this is the right time and the right war.

“Further, we believe the risks involved in going to war, under the unclear and shifting circumstances that confront us today, are far greater than those faced in 1991. Instead of a desert war to liberate Kuwait, combat would likely involve protracted siege warfare, chaotic street-to-street fighting in Baghdad, and Iraqi civil conflict. If that occurs, we fear our own nation and Iraq would both suffer casualties not witnessed since Vietnam. We fear the resulting carnage and humanitarian consequences would further devastate Iraqi society and inflame an already volatile Middle East, and increase terrorism against U.S. citizens.”

President Bush and his advisers ignored their request.

Another poll of the U.S. military was reported by Military News this January. This poll of Military Times readers, who are mostly career soldiers and officers, found large drops in support for the Iraq war. Over the course of the last year, public support for the Iraq war dropped 9 percent, and barely a majority, 54 percent, view the commander in chief’s performance as positive. In 2004, 38 percent believed the U.S. was very likely to succeed in Iraq; in 2005, that was down to 31 percent. Now that the views of active-duty troops are known, it is time for the Congress and the leadership of the Democratic and Republican Parties, to tell the president to end this war now. And it is time for the president’s advisers to urge the commander in chief to listen to his troops.