The year may be winding down, but not the war in Iraq. And if President Bush won the poll that counts on Nov. 2, his re-election by no means eliminates the need for clarity about the Iraqi mission ahead -- particularly here at home. I say this pondering two recent opinion polls, one conducted stateside by The Washington Post, and one conducted by the Military Times of active-duty personnel around the world.
The Post poll, as columnist Donald Lambro has noted, harvested a mass of contradictions. To begin with, 70 percent of the 1,004 randomly queried adults say the rate of American casualties in Iraq is "unacceptable," and 56 percent say the war is "not worth fighting." Which sounds like a political recipe for disengagement. But at the same paradoxical time, 58 percent of the same respondents believe U.S. forces should stay put in Iraq until "civil order is restored," and 48 percent think American efforts to foster democracy in the former dictatorship are making "significant progress."
When it comes to troops polled, there is no mixed message. Sixty-three percent of the 1,423 military respondents approve of Bush's handling of the war, with 60 percent convinced it is a war worth fighting. Among combat vets, that conviction rises to two-thirds. Meanwhile, 75 percent oppose a military draft, while a colossal 87 percent of the military personnel say they're satisfied with their jobs. Only 25 percent say, given the chance, they would leave the service.
The question worth mulling is the "war worth fighting" one, with equivalent majorities in the military and civilian populations at odds over the answer. What do troops overseas know that their fellow Americans at home do not? Silly question. They know a lot of things civilians only imagine about life and death, duty and service, love and loss. And they know a lot of things our media don't see fit to tell us about Iraqi schools, hospitals, town councils, sewers, law, aid and comfort. And I'm thinking they also know a lot of things about the enemy that just doesn't filter through.
Which is where the president comes in -- or should -- to explain. The "insurgency" we hear about is a confusing thing, a misnomer that conjures up a nationalistic force of mustachioed Saddam loyalists plotting to restore the only slightly outdated Ba'athist regime. It is this erroneous image of what is really a melange of Ba'athist elements, international jihadist terrorists and state-sponsored operatives that promotes the dangerous notion, showcased by the Kerry candidacy, that the war in Iraq is a costly "distraction" from the global war on Islamic terror that began in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.