Since late last year, a number of media outlets have echoed the notion that even military personnel are abandoning the Bush Administration and its security policies in the Middle East. The point to poll numbers which (ostensibly) show fewer member of the armed services supporting the War in Iraq, the establishment of anti-war groups within military ranks, and a supposed "revolt" by senior officers who either oppose the handling of the war, or its possible expansion, to include attacks on Iran. We've analyzed most of these reports, and found them lacking, to various degrees.
Consider the annual Military Times survey, published at the end of the year in the Gannett-owned papers which cover the various branches of the armed services (Air Force Times, Army Times, et al). According to the editors, this year's poll's indicated decreased support for Mr. Bush and the War in Iraq among military personnel. But, as we've noted in the past, there are potential problems with the survey and its results. For starters, the Times poll still uses a voluntary, mail-in survey--rather odd in an era of internet communications and global surveys. As we observed back in January, it seems a little odd that the papers can't conduct their own, scientific polls of troops in the field, given the fact that various organizations routinely survey the Iraqi public on various issues, under conditions that are more dangerous than those faced in military garrisons.
We also wondered how the Times managed to correct a major flaw in previous surveys--the relative under-representation of personnel who had actually deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, for example, only 48% of respondents had deployed to the war zone, but in the 2006 poll, that number jumped to 66%--an increase of 37%, using a mail-in survey. That raises obvious questions about how the Times managed to attract so many additional responses from combat veterans, given the fact that (a) the poll reflects the entire military and (b) relatively small numbers of Air Force and Navy personnel have actually deployed. Does that mean the Times gave more weight to surveys from Army or Marine personnel who have served time on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan? Editors at the Military Times haven't said whether that technique was used, but the polling methodology used--and vast changes in respondent demographics from year-to-year--are sufficient reason to question their results.
As for the recently-established "anti-war wing" of the U.S. military, we've written about their "cause" on several occasions, most recently last Friday. "Petition for Redress," is supposedly a grass-roots organization for military personnel who support a withdrawal from Iraq, and the group received "star" treatment on 60 Minutes last night. But in reality, "Petition" is nothing more than an astro-turf movement, a small group of military members serving as front personnel for a high-powered Washington public relations firm, and various well-heeled leftist groups that pay for the p.r. flacks. Predictably, there was no mention of the p.r. firm (Fenton Communications) during last night's segment, just an assurance from a petition signer that the movement is, indeed, grass roots:
"I'm certainly not liberal, and I doubt many of the members on this panel are liberal. It's not funded by any partisan organization. It's soldiers. It's service members. It's grass roots. It's us," says Lt. Kent Gneiting.
Okay, Lieutenant, then who's paying the retainer fee for Fenton Communications? Top-tier p.r. firms don't work for free, and I couldn't afford them with an annual income that's a bit higher than lieutenant's pay, so it's doubtful that Gneiting and his colleagues are actually footing the bill. Moreover, media groups that have profiled Petition for Redress are well aware of its ties with Fenton and its other left-wing clients (Moveon.org and the Fourth Freedom Forum) that are likely paying the bills, yet never mention those relationships in their reporting. Surprise, surprise.
As further proof of a military revolt, the London Times claims that "up to five generals and admirals" are prepared to resign, if President Bush orders an attack against Iran. As John Hinderaker at Powerline observes, the headline is certainly more bold than the story that follows. And for good reason. Citing British defense and intelligence sources, the paper never gets around to naming the military leaders who would resign, and provides no clues to their actual rank, position or responsibilities. Why is that important? Well, for starters, there are over 1,000 flag officers in the U.S. armed services, with duties that encompass the full spectrum of military duties and responsibilities. If the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Commander of U.S. Central Command are prepared to resign over the Iran issue, that's one thing, but if the flag officers threatening to quit are in positions far outside the "combat chain," that's quite another. For the record, I have no idea who these unnamed generals or admirals might be, and quite frankly, I'm not sure the London Times does, either.
So, where does the military stand in terms of support for Mr. Bush and his war policies? Amid the steady drumbeat of bad news from Iraq, I have little doubt that support for the war--and the administration--have eroded. But there is virtually no evidence of a "military revolt," a theme which echoes in the Military Times poll, the 60 Minutes segment, and the story from the London Times. Indeed, if there was a revolt within the ranks, it would be reflected in re-enlistment rates among active duty personnel, particularly those for the Army and Marine Corps, which have borne the brunt of combat casualties. Both services met their goals for new recruits and reenlistments in 2006, suggesting that the majority of soldiers and Marines are willing to sign up (and sign up again), even if it means more deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. But that doesn't exactly support the "military revolt" theme, so good news about recruiting and reenlistment rates tends to get pushed to the back pages, or the latter segment of an evening newscast.
Of course, there are ways to determine just how strongly the military supports the War on Terror. Virtually all of the news organizations cited in this post have their own polling organizations, and it shouldn't be very hard to design a scientific, balanced survey that accurately reflects the the demographic and experience profiles of the armed services. So why haven't such polls been conducted? The answer--again--lies with the template and theme approach that shapes today's news coverage. A scientific survey of the nation's military might produce results that don't support the Military Times mail-in survey, or Lara Logan's little hit piece on 60 Minutes. So, the MSM will continue to cherry-pick its information, looking for those bits of information that fit a certain template, or support their latest theme.