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a misnomer that conjures up a nationalistic force of mustachioed Saddam loyalists plotting to restore the only slightly outdated Ba'athist regime.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.
The National Review's Michael Ledeen recently highlighted the flaw in the "insurgency" argument by pointing out that the leading force behind the terrorist assault on Iraq is Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who is neither a Ba'athist, nor an Iraqi. He is a Palestinian Arab Muslim from Jordan "who was based in Iran for several years, and who -- when the West Europeans found he was creating a terror network in their countries (primarily Germany and Italy) and protested to the Iranians -- moved into Iraqi Kurdistan with Iranian protection and support, as the moving force in Ansar al Islam."
This makes Zarqawi an emblem for the multinational, Islamo-fascist enemies of Iraqi democracy, which include, according to evidence, Iran and Syria. They also include Osama bin Laden, whose latest purported audiotape dubs Zarqawi his deputy and denounces Iraqis who participate in the upcoming election as "infidels." Terrorism expert Ledeen calls the war in Iraq a regional struggle -- which it certainly is -- while an Islamic scholar such as Robert Spencer may be more apt to see the fight in ideological terms -- which is also correct. The point is that our troops in Iraq are fighting a wider war on violent, nihilist jihad -- that vital struggle for Western survival known antiseptically as "the war on terror."
Just before Christmas, Georges Malbrunot -- one of two captured French journalists who pegged their release by jihadists in Iraq to France's opposition to the war in Iraq -- underscored the reality of that wider war. His captors "were more driven by Islamic holy war than Iraqi nationalism," reported the BBC. "One of the lessons we drew from our captivity was that we were immersed in Planet Bin Laden," Malbrunot said. "We were very aware that it wasn't the Iraqi agenda that motivated our kidnappers, but the internationalist jihadist agenda."
I think any poll would find Americans agree that a war on the internationalist jihadist agenda from Planet Bin Laden is a war well worth fighting.