The public opinion quagmire

A conservative columnist and military blogger offers some intriguing perspective on why support for the war is waning on the home front.

By Mark Follman
Published June 17, 2005 9:16PM (EDT)

Columnist and military blogger Austin Bay reports from Tal Afar, Iraq, where U.S. forces have seen a lot of action, and where new Iraqi forces have shown mixed results. Given the dark clouds of public disapproval for the war gathering on the home front, Bay's perspective (typically a conservative one) is intriguing. He sees a strong disconnection with the American public, and for starters blames some of the usual suspects: "I find that this return visit to Iraq spurs thoughts of America -- of American will to pursue victory," he writes. "I dont mean the will of U.S. forces in the field. Wander around with a bunch of Marines for a half hour, spend fifteen minutes with Guardsmen from Idaho, and you will have no doubts about American military capabilities or the troops will to win. But our weakness is back home, on the couch, in front of the tv, on the cable squawk shows, on the editorial page of the New York Times, in the political gotcha games of Washington, D.C." America, Bay argues, wants its pre-September 11th sense of freedom and security back, but "without finishing the job."

He doesn't go into any further detail about the correlation he sees between the events of 9/11 and "finishing" with Iraq. But he does offer some additional perspective focusing on the Bush administration's leadership -- and on the true time frame and Herculean work an endeavor like the one in Iraq requires.

"The military is fighting, the Iraqi people are fighting, but where is the U.S. political class?" Bay asks. "The Bush Administration has yet to ask the American people -- correction, has yet to demand of the American people -- the sustained, shared sacrifice it takes to win this long, intricate war of bullets, ballots, and bricks. Bullets go bang, and even CBS understands bullets. Ballots make an impression -- in terms of this wars battlespace, the January Iraqi elections were World War IIs D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge combined. But the bricks -- the building of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other hard corners where this war is and will be fought -- thats a delicate and decades long challenge. ... This is the Bush Administrations biggest strategic mistake -- a failure to tap the reservoir of American willingness 9/11 produced."

Bay's assessment of the Bush track record is debatable -- there's no shortage of fierce competition in the "biggest strategic mistake" category. But, unlike the administration, Bay is at least willing to acknowledge the true scope of what the U.S. is attempting to do militarily around the globe today. Whether or not he's right about American willingness to sacrifice and support it is another matter. It may be that the growing distaste for war in fact has less to do with the chattering pundits and politicians, and more to do with the American public's growing recognition of a truth that the administration won't touch with a ten foot pole -- one that Bay himself already knows.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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