IT will surely be difficult for many people of good will to reconcile the awfulness of the daily news coming out of Iraq — deaths of and injuries to American soldiers and committed Iraqis who want nothing more than to bring freedom and democracy to a forlorn and battered country — with the astonishing new poll released by the Military Times yesterday.
That poll of 1,423 active members of the military indicates that the armed forces of the United States are passionate supporters of the Coalition's efforts in Iraq.
Support for the war inside the military stands at 60 percent, 25 percent higher than the latest Gallup measurement of the American people as a whole.
When it comes to President Bush's handling of the war effort, the results are even more lopsided. Only 42 percent of Americans approve, according to ABC News. In the military, Bush garners 63 percent support.
In other words, support for Bush's Iraq policy is an astounding half again as big in the active military as in the American body politic.
And, in the words of the Army Times report on the poll, "Support for the war is even greater among those who have served longest in the combat zone: Two-thirds of combat vets say the war is worth fighting."
It seems that the people who are actually putting their lives on the line believe in what they are doing — and that those who have spent the most time in harm's way are the most passionate of all.
Job satisfaction in the military, the poll found, is a breathtaking 87 percent, and only a quarter of those polled say they want out.
Note, too, that the active military is angrier at Congress than at the Pentagon.
In the wake of the publicity surrounding the National Guardsman's question to Donald Rumsfeld about the supposed failure to provide appropriate armor, it is instructive to note this poll's conclusion about the matter. Quoting from the Military Times again: "60 percent blame Congress for the shortage of body armor in the combat zone."
That result suggests a greater degree of sophistication on these matters than most Americans — and most pundits — possess. Military personnel know that equipment problems in Iraq are the result of Congress' decisions throughout the '90s to slash the military budget, which had a parlous impact on "combat readiness."
But what is not heartening is this sobering fact: We can locate the decline in support for the war effort almost entirely inside the Democratic Party.
By a margin of 80-19, Democrats now say they oppose the decision to go to war. The margin among Republicans is exactly the reverse: 80 percent of GOPers support the war, while 19 percent disapprove.
This is not only a partisan divide. It's a cultural divide. As the year 2004 ends, the rank and file of the Democratic Party has turned decisively and profoundly against the military effort in Iraq. And there is reason to believe it won't be long before they turn on the military as well.
Throughout the year, Democratic politicians have been trying to split the difference with the military — saying they support the troops while opposing the war. But that kind of sophistry won't stand.
The military wants to fight this war. Democrats don't. How long before Democrats decide that our men and women in uniform are just extensions of the president and party they detest — a bunch of warmongering, bloodthirsty and stupid imperialists?
Democratic Party bottom-feeders — like the odd and unpleasant people who inhabit the comments sections on Web sites like dailykos.com and democraticunderground.com — have already long since started spewing their bile at our soldiers, sailors and Marines.
Soon, however, the bottom feeders may rise to the surface, just as they did during the Vietnam War. These will be underground opinions no longer.