A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

People, troops polls apart on military escalation?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 9, 10 or 11

Despite more than a decade of war and the immeasurable cost in treasure and lives lost and hurt, about one-third of those responding to an Associated Press/GfK poll support going beyond air strikes against the ISIS terrorist group and putting U.S. military “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria.

Of course, that means about 70 percent did not voice support for such an escalation.

The poll – which also concluded that 53 percent now think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States – showed that the country is split about evenly on how President Obama is handling the crisis.

Other recent polls by Washington Post-ABC News and Wall Street Journal/NBC News have suggested rising public support for stepped-up air strikes. Since such assertions contrast with polling this summer that suggested significant opposition to any expanded military operations abroad, reasonable people may conclude that officials and media alarmists are influencing people’s shifting opinions.

In fact, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans continues to say that the country shouldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 and shouldn’t conduct direct military action again to support the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS. Past opinion polls also have shown that the U.S. public has been consistently wary about military intervention in the Syrian civil war.

“At this point it remains unclear if American public opinion is changing more generally on military and foreign policy issues, or if recent shifts are unique to the challenge posed by the Islamic State,” writes Leighton Walter Kille of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. “After all, public sentiment is often unpredictable on matters of war and peace, as history shows.”

Indeed, through the decades, many “armchair soldiers” in the comfort of their homes have voiced support for military action, according to Gallup:

* 47% backed the U.S. effort to enforce a U.N. “no fly” zone in Libya in March 2011;
* 37% supported a “surge” of deployed troops to Afghanistan in November 2009;
* 66% approved of President Bush’s 2003 demand that dictator Saddam Hussein leave Iraq in 48 hours;
* 88% agreed with invading Afghanistan in October 2011, a month after 9/11;
* 42% approved President Clinton’s use of air strikes against Serbian forced is Kosovo in October 1998;
* 49% supported sending troops to Bosnia in May 1993;
* 49% also backed deploying troops to Kuwait and Iraq in December 1990;
* about 75% thought it was justified to launch air strikes against Libya in March 1986 in retaliation for dictator Muammar Qaddafi firing missiles at U.S. assets;
* more than 40% approved President Johnson continuing U.S. involvement in Vietnam in February 1965; and
* 54% endorsed going to war with China in July 1950 if that country sent troops to help North Korean forces.

That all might seem to indicate somewhat of a civilian willingness to go to war, but look again: Often the majority does NOT support military intervention. And what about those with real, on-the-ground, close-up experiences? What do they think about the current Middle East crisis?

About 70 percent of the military rank and file are opposed to expanding the military mission to Iraq and Syria, according to a Military Times newspaper survey of active-duty personnel.

(Yes, that roughly corresponds to the civilians in the AP/GfK poll who did not voice support for “boots on the ground.”)

Some members of the military conceded that there can be a lingering feeling that the nation doesn’t want its fallen servicemen and -women to have died for nothing. But that reasoning is flawed, according to Marine 2nd Lt. Christopher Fox, who deployed twice to Iraq.

He told Military Times, published by Gannett, “A lot of people have that ‘sunken cost’ mentality – ‘Since we put so much into it, we can’t pull out right now,’ ” he said. “That is not a good argument for anything.”

So the argument now may be fear – fear stoked, if not contrived, by military leaders, weapons manufacturers, Congressional cheerleaders, and ratings-hungry (or anti-Obama) media mouthpieces.

Shouldn’t we try to tune them out and instead listen to our children in the military?

[PICTURED: "Boots on the Ground" display at the Charleston (W. Va.) Civic Center a decade ago, organized by the West Virginia Patriots for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee to protest hundreds of U.S. fatalities at that point in the invasion and occupation off Iraq. Photo from]

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