Well, now we have it.
If you’re one of those people with a yellow “Support the Troops” magnet on your car, you might consider doing what 72 percent of those troops in Iraq want, which is to go home.
You might not know it if you get your news from TV or your local paper–or even if you read the New York Times but skip the opinion page–but Zogby International, a leading polling organization, just did a major poll of 944 American soldiers and marines in Iraq and found that nearly three quarters of them thought the US should exit Iraq within a year. More than half thought the US should leave within six months, and 29 percent said the US should leave “immediately.” (That’s what the Commander in Chief and the vice president, both of whom avoided having to fight in Vietnam, like to call “cutting and running.”)
The Zogby poll results should be big news, but it didn’t make most of the mainstream papers or the major TV news programs.
A spokesperson at Zogby said, philosophically, “This is the kind of story that has a long shelf life. These are not the kinds of opinions that shift up and down rapidly; they are strongly held opinions being expressed by the troops who were interviewed. We find that these kinds of polls don’t get covered as news in themselves in today’s media. They tend to get picked up and used to illuminate other stories, over time.”
The spokesperson, Communications Director Fritz Wenzel, said that the 48 hours following Zogby’s release of the new poll, with its startling results, were “the busiest days I’ve had in this job,” with over 50 reporters contacting him for interviews. Oddly though, this busiest day of calling didn’t produce much in the way of stories.
A likely explanation for this seeming paradox is that reporters clearly recognized the news value of a poll finding that the vast majority of American forces in Iraq believe that the war is a fiasco and that it’s time to get the hell out, but senior management wouldn’t let them go with the story. That’s why the poll results, instead of being reported as the breaking news that they are, will end up being tucked discretely into broader pieces, as the Washington Post did, putting the information midway through an article on President Bush’s falling approval rating (now at 34%). That’s why the New York Times ignored the story in its news pages, and let it be covered in an op-ed column by Nicholas Kristof.
The poll, conducted between mid-January and mid-February, asked the troops other questions besides just the one about staying and fighting on or going home.
Among the other startling things Zogby discovered:
* While the administration keeps going on about “foreign fighters” being the problem in Iraq, only 26% of the troops questioned thought eliminating foreign fighters would weaken the insurgency.
* The strongest opposition to “staying the course” in Iraq came from reserve and National Guard troops, but even among active-duty Marines, the most gung-ho of troops in Iraq, 58% favored a pull-out within a year. Nearly half of reserve and guard troops favored an immediate pull-out.
* While the president talks about starting to reduce the number of US troops in Iraq, currently at a peak of 136,000 (a political imperative with congressional elections coming up this November), a majority of troops in the country say it would take a doubling of troops and a stepped up bombing campaign to control the Iraqi insurgency.
* A clear majority of the troops oppose torture and aggressive interrogation techniques and four out of five polled oppose the use of such banned weapons as napalm and phosphorus bombs, such as US forces employed in the assault on Fallujah in November 2004.
* This kind of information, which runs counter to the prevailing wisdom about attitudes of soldiers in the field, should be big news based upon the standard “man-bites-dog” theory of what constitutes news, but so far, the major media are for the most part ducking it, treating it as a “dog-bites-man” non-story.
A good illustration of how this kind of journalistic cowardice undermines effective political discourse in America is provided by the continuing ignorance about the causes of the war. Even in America itself, a large percentage of people still believe, against all the evidence, that invading Iraq made sense because Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks. He was not, as even the president has been grudgingly forced to admit. Yet the media have done such a bad job of making this clear that Zogby reports 85 percent of troops in Iraq still think they’re fighting “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.”
The clearest message of the Zogby poll is that those who want to “support the troops” now know what the troops themselves want, and what they want is “OUT!”
Those Americans who want to do something significant to support the troops beyond just displaying a meaningless yellow ribbon might start by calling their local media outlets and asking why there hasn’t been a story about the latest Zogby poll.
That could be followed up by a few calls to local Congressional delegations, calling attention to the poll, and demanding an end to the war, in the interest of supporting our troops.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.
He can be reached at: email@example.com