President Bush has consistently and persistently stated that he doesn't read or review the public opinion polls on issues that confront the electorate. I don't question that, given his distaste for reading lengthy documents. But I find it difficult to believe that Karl Rove, his domestic affairs guru, doesn't fully brief the president on the findings of the more important polls. And that goes for the one recently out on the feelings of U.S. troops currently serving in Iraq.
The poll, taken by one of the most respected pollsters in the country, comes up with results contrary to what Bush has been saying in speeches and press conferences for many months. He and his supporters, including top brass in the Army, have said that the majority of the soldiers are gung-ho about their mission in Iraq and feel they should remain in Iraq as long as necessary.
Not so, said the majority of the 944 servicemen and women now serving in Iraq who were questioned by staffers of Zogby International and LeMoyne College. Only 23 percent of the troops questioned said U.S. forces should stay in Iraq as long as they are needed, the position the president has consistently taken.
A whopping 72 percent said U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq in one year and of that group 29 percent said withdrawal should be started immediately. Some 22 percent said our forces should leave Iraq within six months, and 21 percent feel they should pull out within six to 12 months.
By a 2-to-1 ratio, our troops there said that "to control the insurgency, we need to double the level of ground troops and bombing missions." The administration has ruled against adding to the ground forces currently in Iraq and has consistently said that is the position of top military commanders currently there.
Could the position of the military brass truly reflect their feelings, or are they only echoing what they perceive to be the Bush administration's position? If that is the case, they are not doing their jobs.
Given the feelings expressed in the Zogby survey, one can only surmise that the morale of our troops is not very good and that the president and his people need to make statements or take actions that will effectively boost morale.
The troops are saying that they don't want to follow the president's strategy of "staying the course." They obviously don't think the current strategy can succeed in bringing the conflict to a successful end. When your forces have no faith in what they can accomplish, it's time for those who are in charge to take steps to invigorate them.
The Zogby poll indicates that the president must concentrate on steps to be taken to change the attitude of our forces in the field. A definitive timetable for withdrawal of our troops is absolutely a necessity, whether it is six months or a year or whatever. But the troops need that and need it now.
And the president needs to assert with conviction that the U.S. has no intention of keeping any military bases in Iraq on a permanent basis. Yes, he should say the U.S. would maintain bases in Iraq for a period of time, most particularly until the Iraqi government is stabilized and capable of functioning in every respect. That should be spelled out to erase the concerns of the Iraqi nationalists who need that assurance.
President Bush is a stubborn man with strong convictions, but he has to take the steps to halt the insurgency and put an end to the ever-increasing death and injury toll to U.S. troops and the citizens of Iraq.
Bush got us into this mess, and it's now up to him to get us out of there. It can be done if he is willing to swallow his pride and admit that the Iraqi incursion has not been as easy and successful as he and his advisers had said it would be. It's time to end it.
Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.