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Bush loses ground with military families
Families with ties to the military, long a reliable source of support for wartime presidents, disapprove of President Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq, with a majority concluding the invasion was not worth it, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.
The views of the military community, which includes active-duty service members, veterans and their family members, mirror those of the overall adult population, a sign that the strong military endorsement that the administration often pointed to has dwindled in the war's fifth year.
Nearly six out of every 10 military families disapprove of Bush's job performance and the way he has run the war, rating him only slightly better than the general population does.
And among those families with soldiers, sailors and Marines who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 60% say that the war in Iraq was not worth the cost, the same result as all adults surveyed.
"I don't see gains for the people of Iraq . . . and, oh, my God, so many wonderful young people, and these are the ones who felt they were really doing something, that's why they signed up," said poll respondent Sue Datta, 61, whose youngest son, an Army staff sergeant, was seriously wounded in Iraq last year and is scheduled to redeploy in 2009. "I pray to God that they did not die in vain, but I don't think our president is even sensitive at all to what it's like to have a child serving over there."
Patience with the war, which has now lasted longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II, is wearing thin -- particularly among families who have sent a service member to the conflict. One-quarter say American troops should stay "as long as it takes to win." Nearly seven in 10 favor a withdrawal within the coming year or "right away."
Military families are only slightly more patient: 35% are willing to stay until victory; 58% want the troops home within a year or sooner.
Here, too, the military families surveyed are in sync with the general population, 64% of whom call for a withdrawal by the end of next year.
"You generally expect to see support for the president as commander in chief and for the war, but this is a different kind of war than those we've fought in the past, particularly for families," said David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland.
Today's all-volunteer force is older and more married than any before it. Facing a shortage of troops, the Army increased the maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42 and called up reservists, who tend to be older and more settled than recruits fresh out of high school. The result is a fighting force that left thousands of spouses and children behind.
At the same time, deployments have grown longer and more frequent as troops rotate in and out of the war zone, sometimes three and four times, with no fixed end date in sight, a wearing existence that has contributed to opposition to Bush and his war strategy.
"The man went into Iraq without justification, without a plan; he just decided to go in there and win, and he had no idea what was going to happen," said poll respondent Mary Meneely, 58, of Arco, Minn. Her son, an Air Force reservist, served one tour in Afghanistan. "There have been terrible deaths on our side, and it's even worse for the Iraqi population. It's another Vietnam."
The survey, conducted under the supervision of Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,467 adults nationwide from Nov. 30 through Monday. It included 631 respondents from military families and 152 who have had someone in their family stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The margin of error for the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for military families it is 4 percentage points, and for families with someone in the war zone it is 8 percentage points.
Other surveys have shown an erosion of support for Bush and the war among military personnel, including a 2005 poll by Military Times of their active-duty readers.
Now the disapproval of Bush appears to have transferred to his party. Republican leanings of military families that began with the Vietnam War -- when Democratic protests seemed to be aimed at the troops as much as the fighting -- have shifted, the poll results show.
When military families were asked which party could be trusted to do a better job of handling issues related to them, respondents divided almost evenly: 39% said Democrats and 35% chose Republicans. The general population feels similarly: 39% for Democrats and 31% for Republicans.
"The Democrats are not seen as the anti-soldier group anymore," said Charles C. Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University. He added that Bush's firm backing of the troops did not gain him any points because the entire country was now viewed as supportive of the military, even if not of the war. "He doesn't get extra credit for that."
"We support the troops; we don't support Bush," said respondent Linda Ramirez, 52, of Spooner, Wis., whose 19-year-old son is due to be deployed with the Marines early next year. "These boys have paid a terrible, terrible price."
The carnage -- nearly 3,900 killed and 29,000 wounded -- is contributing to the war's unpopularity, even though the number of dead is low compared with previous wars, Moskos thinks.
Medical advances on the battlefield have saved more lives but sent home more severely injured troops; for every soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, eight are wounded -- nearly triple the ratio in Vietnam.
Asked about the Bush administration's handling of the needs of active-duty troops, military families and veterans, 57% of the general public disapprove. That number falls only slightly among military families -- 53% give a thumbs-down.
And most military families and others surveyed took no exception to retired officers publicly criticizing the Bush administration's execution of the war. More than half of the respondents in both groups -- 58% -- say such candor is appropriate. Families with someone who had served in the war are about equally supportive at 55%.