Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Excuse me, sir...

But I think you've gotten this wrong.

Marine Major Ben Connable wrote this in today's WaPo:
The common wisdom seems to be that Iraq is an unwinnable war and a quagmire and that the only thing left to decide is how quickly we withdraw. Depending on which poll you believe, about 60 percent of Americans think it's time to pull out of Iraq.

How is it, then, that 64 percent of U.S. military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work? Why is there such a dramatic divergence between American public opinion and the upbeat assessment of the men and women doing the fighting?
The only poll I could find that came close to agreeing with this statement was a November 17, 2005 poll by The Pew Research Center For the People and the Press.

In the poll, military "opinion leaders" did indeed believe that a stable democracy will succeed in Iraq. However, there's nothing that says, as Maj. Connable does, that these are the people "doing the fighting." In fact, many of the military "opinion leaders" weren't even asked this question. Or any questions. The methodology explained:
The military leaders sample was drawn from a Lexis-Nexis search of retired generals and admirals quoted in American news sources in the past year. Also included was a sample of outstanding officers selected to participate in the Council on Foreign Relations' Military Fellowship program since 2000.
There's nothing that says whether these retired general officers are recent retirees who might have actually served in Iraq (at which point they might also have the added incentive to be optimistic due to their own contributions) or whether they've been out of the Army for many years. There's also nothing that says how many of the 47 military "opinion leaders" were general officers and how many were members of the CFR Military Fellowship program, so suggesting that there's any way to gauge whether this is the opinion of people "doing the fighting" is, at best, problematic and, more realistically, impossible.

The major goes on to say that mid-level officers and NCOs also seem to be optimistic about Iraq, but there's no data except his personal impressions and, I'll tell from an NCOs perspective, a Marine major probably has little chance of actually knowing what his NCOs really think. That's not a dig on him. It's just the truth.

One thing that Maj. Connable didn't mention from the same poll was that those same military "opinion leaders" were all but evenly split on the topic two major issues: A) military leaders support the choice to go to war in the first place by only 49-47 percent; and B) believe that the Iraq war has helped make us safer by only 47-45 percent.

So this poll really tells me that military "opinion leaders" (whoever they are) still believe in the ability of the military to pull America's fat out of the fire in Iraq even though they're evenly split over whether we should be there in the first place and whether it's doing us any good.

Update:I think it's important to add this, which I posted in response to a comment in this articles cross-post over at DailyKos.

Connable shouldn't be attacked personally. He's serving his country honorably in the Marine Corps. My problem with him is that he's doing the readers of the Washington Post a disservice by misrepresenting the beliefs of those in service.

I also disagree with the idea that, simply because he's been in Iraq he necessarily has a better perspective of the Iraq situation than the rest of us. As a guy who was in a position to move around Afghanistan with more freedom than 95% of soldiers, I was often surprised when I went from, say, Ghazni to Herat and found that the commanders and staff there had almost no concept of what their counterparts were dealing with--and these were Lt. Colonels and Colonels who took part in the General's daily Battle Update Briefing. It's often the case that many service members get locked into their area of the war and know their "slice" of it inside and out, but cannot see the larger picture. Connable can tell you about his mission, but extrapolating that portion onto the whole would be like my describing the entire American political scene based on my observations of Stafford county, Kansas. My guess? Bush would still win there with about 62% of the vote.

There's no way to tell what Maj. Connable's reading/research habits are, but I would argue that he's shown a willingness to either misread or misrepresent poll numbers and personal experience, as I've said, will only get you so far.

I still remember sitting with a journalist from Germany's Die Zeit newspaper as she explained the current state of the Afghanistan war to a smart, very soldierly infantry brigade commander. Being trapped in one area of the country by his duty, he could only take the reporter's word for the situation the country was in--though, for the record, she felt very positively about it.


Blogger california_reality_check said...

John Murtha says "What do you expect them to say?" Military people can't say the war is unwinable. Sorry for the rummyism. They can't let negative stuff into their heads. What did Colin Powell say about a "force multiplier"? Combat Military people get promoted by fighting in Wars to some extent. This is what they do. This is what they spend their entire life doing. Trying to stay alive in the battlefield takes some positive focus. I say let the civilians decide policy. Isn't that the way we have it set up? Now, what we need here is a regime change to bring some sanity back to our foreign policy.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Bishop said...

Connable shouldn't be attacked personally. He's serving his country honorably in the Marine Corps.

I'm not so sure of this. I would point you to Jim Freeman's latest column, in which he makes the claim that Mr. Connable's existence is doubtful.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

As I posted there, Google reveals his existence as "Alfred B. Connable".

8:25 PM  
Blogger scalesmd said...

Major Connable is very real. Follow the link to the BBC website where you can listen to the Major who was a guest on a BBC call-in program(me).

I think you will find him more engaging, intelligent and thoughtful than you probably thought possible.

click on "listen" on the right side to hear the show..

5:29 PM  

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