Military Poll: Most Troops Oppose Ground Troops in Iraq

Daniel Doherty
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Posted: Sep 29, 2014 2:00 PM
Military Poll: Most Troops Oppose Ground Troops in Iraq

In virtually every foreign policy speech or interview the president gives, he reiterates this simple message: His administration will not re-deploy combat troops to Iraq.

Instead, he emphasizes the importance of building an international coalition of nations to take the fight to ISIS. This will provide coordinated and targeted air strikes against enemy targets, he argues, as well as much-needed cover and assistance to our allies on the ground.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many active duty troops support this strategy:

As the tide of war rises again in the Middle East, the military’s rank and file are mostly opposed to expanding the new mission in Iraq and Syria to include sending a large number of U.S. ground troops into combat, according to a Military Times survey of active-duty members. On the surface, troops appear to support President Obama’s repeated vows not to let the U.S. military get “dragged into another ground war” in Iraq. Yet at the same time, the views of many service members are shaped by a deep ambivalence about this commander in chief and questions about his ability to lead the nation through a major war, according to the survey and interviews.

The reader survey asked more than 2,200 active-duty troops this question: “In your opinion, do you think the U.S. military should send a substantial number of combat troops to Iraq to support the Iraqi security forces?” Slightly more than 70 percent responded: “No.” “It’s their country, it’s their business. I don’t think major ‘boots on the ground’ is the right answer,” said one Army infantry officer and prior-enlisted soldier who deployed to Iraq three times. He responded to the survey and an interview request but, like several other service members in this story, asked not to be named because he is not authorized to discuss high-level military policy.

Furthermore, according to the Military Times, there are additional reasons why our military personnel broadly oppose on-the-ground intervention.

First, the ineffectiveness and weakness of the Iraqi government is a top concern. Would the sacrifice be worth it, for example, if the Iraqi government still can’t stand on its own hind legs? Second, the administration’s willingness to dedicate itself to Iraq until the job is finished remains uncertain. Understandably, many troops are asking the following question: Since we pulled out of Iraq prematurely last time, would we not do so again if and when the war falls out of favor? Third, combat fatigue is a feeling that runs deep through the military. “We’re burned out,” one soldier told the Times.

But perhaps this is the biggest concern of all:

Troops intuitively understand that final decisions ultimately land on Obama’s desk. And support for Obama within the military — never especially high — has dropped significantly since he took office, according to the Military Times survey. In 2009, 35 percent of service members approved of the way Obama was “handling of his job as commander in chief.” This year, that figure dropped below 15 percent.

That lack of support for Obama may underpin some service members’ views on Iraq today, Feaver said. “It’s very hard to mobilize the military to follow an uncertain trumpet,” he said in an interview after reviewing the results of the Military Times poll. “If they have doubts about the commander in chief, they are going to have doubts about a major military operation.

American troops, therefore, are losing faith in our commander-in-chief. And even if they're not, as some have suggested, garnering an abysmal 15 percent approval rating from our men and women in uniform is hardly a ringing endorsement.

Be that as it may, the military’s strong preference for staying out of Iraq stands in sharp contrast to the NBC poll Matt wrote up on Sunday. All told, 72 percent of respondents say, sooner or later, US ground troops will occupy Iraqi soil.

The president, for his part, says the possibility of re-deploying our military to the region is completely off-the-table. But if the public keeps applying the pressure, who knows what might happen.