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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Iraq Narrows the Gap Between the Military and U.S. Civilians


Since the abolition of the draft and the creation of the all-volunteer U.S. military at the initiation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1973, a generation of American leaders — both in and out of politics — has come of age who have never served their nation. It is fair to say that vast majorities of upper-middle-class parents do not today regard the military as an acceptable career for their children.

The end of the draft has meant that the two communities — civilian and military — have had less contact with, or understanding of, each other. Nowhere has that civilian-military gap been more pronounced than in political attitudes, where the U.S. military is overwhelmingly more Republican and conservative than American voters.

But now a 2006 poll of active duty military personnel by the group that publishes the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Air Force Times and the Marine Corps Times — sold in military commissaries and post exchanges with a paid weekly circulation of close to 250,000 — reveals a dramatic drop in support for president George W. Bush's leadership on Iraq among the men and women whose lives are most directly affected by the commander in chief's policies.

The same poll in 2005 of active duty military personnel, nearly two-thirds of whom have had combat tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, showed 54 percent approval of the president's handling of Iraq. In 2006, support among those in uniform — and in the line of fire — of Bush's handling of Iraq fell to just 35 percent, with 42 percent disapproving of the president's leadership on the war. Most recent national surveys report about three out of 10 voters support Bush's handling of Iraq. Not that big a difference between Americans in and out of the military.

When asked whether the United States should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place? Just two years ago, 65 percent of those on duty answered affirmatively.

Today, only 40 percent believe the decision to go to war against Iraq was the correct one. In the informed judgment of the military papers' senior managing editor, Robert Hodierne, "These are not bleeding-heart, antiwar liberals."

He's right: Five times (45 percent) as many on-duty people define themselves as conservative than admit to being liberal (9 percent). Three times as many (46 percent) are Republicans as are Democrats (16 percent).

Those polled are more likely to be career military, older and longer in service than most. These are individuals for whom "can-do" is truly a creed by which they live. Their earlier optimism about the eventual success of the U.S. mission in Iraq has disappeared — becoming one more casualty of the mortal dangers they and their comrades live with first-hand in that tortured and bleeding land.

What has to be of most concern to the White House from these disapproving survey number is they reflect the somber judgments of, in Hodierne's words, "one of the groups he (the president) needs most," and they come from individuals "who know what they're talking about" when it comes to fighting wars.

What is interesting is that those surveyed are still positive on their choice to join the military. A bare majority approve of President Bush's overall handling of his job. What they disapprove of emphatically is his handling of Iraq. And they and their families will pay for the national leadership errors with their limbs and their lives.

Last fall, in an interview on "60 Minutes," Bob Woodward, whose 2004 book on the Bush presidency was featured on the Bush-Cheney campaign Website, wrote of the president telling a group of key Republicans called to the White House to discuss Iraq that "I will not withdraw even if Laura and Barney (the Bush family dog) are the only ones supporting me." With the previously strongly supportive active-duty now turning against Bush on Iraq, is it time for someone to check with Barney?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




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