Military Families Question Iraq War as Support for Bush Slips
By Christopher Stern
Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Kent Fletcher, an Iraq war veteran, says he enthusiastically voted for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Now, he is a registered Democrat who questions the need for the war, the way it has been managed and the treatment of returning veterans.
``Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat and the culmination of my career was that war and it wasn't necessary,'' says Fletcher, 32, a financial analyst in Bluffton, South Carolina, who served almost 10 years as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll shows that Fletcher's skepticism about the war reflects a growing disenchantment within the broader military community, long a bastion of support for the Bush administration and Republicans. Among active-duty military, veterans and their families, only 36 percent say it was worth going to war in Iraq. This compares with an Annenberg survey taken in 2004, one year after the invasion, which showed that 64 percent of service members and their families supported the war.
The views of veterans and their families are now closer in line with overall public sentiment. The poll shows that 32 percent of the general population supports the war.
The change isn't ``surprising,'' says Andrew Bacevich, a former Army colonel and professor of international relations at Boston University whose son was killed in Iraq in May. ``Military families have been asked to make enormous sacrifices.''
The poll conducted Nov. 30-Dec. 3 also finds that 37 percent of military-family members approve of the job Bush is doing as president, a little more than the general population. The 2004 poll by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications in Philadelphia found that twice as many military families approved of Bush's performance.
``I don't think our commander-in-chief has inclusive long- term goals sketched out,'' said Victoria Colhouer, 49, of St. Petersburg, Florida, whose son is serving in Iraq.
The same trend holds true on the question of the treatment of active-duty military, veterans and their families. The poll finds that only 29 percent of all poll respondents say they believe the Bush administration is doing a good job handling those needs. Among military families, who directly benefit from those programs, 35 percent say the administration is doing a good job.
At the same time, a plurality of military-family members, 39 percent, say they believe Democrats are likely to do a better job handling those issues, compared with 35 percent for Republicans.
When it comes to candidates in next year's presidential election, military families are less reliably Republican than in earlier campaigns. Two Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois run slightly ahead of former Republican Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among those voters, and both Democrats trail only slightly former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The survey of 1,467 adults nationwide includes 631 military family members, active-duty personnel and veterans. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for the military families it is plus or minus 4 points.
Max Ramos, 52, an Army master sergeant who was injured in Afghanistan in 2002 and is set to retire next month after 28 years of service, says he still supports Bush. At the same time, he understands that soldiers are angry about a military health- care system that is strained by the war.
`Person in Charge'
He says many of his military colleagues blame Bush because ``the person that is responsible for everything is the person in charge.''
In 2005, Fletcher, the Marine who switched party affiliations, published an editorial in the Huntington, West Virginia Herald-Dispatch newspaper scolding critics of Bush, who he said were also insulting the U.S. fighting forces.
``You don't have to spit on an Iraqi war veteran physically to spit on one metaphorically,'' he wrote. ``We are part and the same with the president's administration.''
Fletcher is now a member of Votevets.org, a group that promotes political candidates, particularly veterans who are critical of the Bush administration's Iraq war policies.
That shift in Fletcher's view may reflect a broader trend in the military about dissent. The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll finds that 58 percent of military families -- the same margin as the overall population -- believe it is appropriate for retired military personnel to criticize Bush even in a time of war.
Separately, the poll also finds that almost half of Americans would support some form of military action against Iran over its nuclear program. The survey was conducted before the Bush administration released an intelligence assessment this week that concluded Iran halted nuclear-weapons development in 2003. The report has prompted a fresh round of criticism by Democrats of Bush's stance that Iran is a growing threat to the U.S. and its allies.