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Support for Congress Drops Among Military Professional Core
Military Times
By Gordon Trowbridge
January 3, 2006

From Congress to the White House to the Pentagon, the career-oriented heart of the military appears increasingly estranged from its leaders in Washington, according to results of the 2005 Military Times Poll.

The poll of active-duty subscribers to the Military Times newspapers also shows continued disdain for the media and a belief that the military's prestige may have slipped in the eyes of civilians.

Whether the numbers reflect the impact of controversies of the last year — or a longer-term trend of growing separation between political leaders and Americans as a whole, — they are likely to feed concerns about tension between the uniformed military and the civilians responsible for its oversight.

The poll asked active-duty members if they believed several leadership institutions had the military's best interests at heart. The results:

• 58 percent agreed that President Bush had their best interests at heart, down 11 percentage points from a year ago.

• 64 percent agreed that senior uniformed leaders had their best interests at heart, down six points.

• Congress saw the most dramatic drop: Just 31 percent agreed Congress looked out for their best interests, less than half the number a year ago.

It is unclear whether respondents identified Congress more with the current Republican leadership, or with minority Democrats who have increasingly called for a quick pullout from Iraq, something most poll respondents oppose. Based on follow-up interviews with poll respondents, the heated debate itself may be a factor.

"Collectively, they can't make a decision together," said Navy Machinist's Mate 1st Class James McKelvy, an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy. "It's really hard to take orders from a body of people that really seems like they don't have their act together." Well-publicized problems supplying combat equipment may have hurt the image of leaders across the board.

"It takes a major war for us to decide to put armor on our vehicles and put armor on our troops," said Marine Staff Sgt. Jeremy Jensen. "It's taken so long to even up-armor all of our Humvees."

The drop also may be tied to pay and benefits issues. A declining percentage rate their pay and allowances as excellent, which may reflect smaller pay increases in recent budgets. Federal officials also have taken criticism for shortfalls in funding for veterans' health care.

"It may have to do with that partly, and partly with the increasing hyper-partisanship of Congress," said Richard Kohn, a University of North Carolina expert on civil-military relations.

But Kohn said tensions, especially with Congress, are nothing new. "For a long time, professional military people have been very skeptical of Congress," he said.

David Segal, an expert in military sociology at the University of Maryland , said the results mirror a similar estrangement between civilian Americans and their political leaders.

"I see military attitudes converging with civilian non-elite attitudes," which show fewer Americans believing that political leaders are looking out for their interests.

While military views of political leaders are slipping, the poll shows respondents also are concerned that their image may not be as strong in the eyes of other Americans. The share of respondents who said civilians have a very favorable impression of the military dropped 13 percentage points from a year ago, to 24 percent. There were smaller but significant drops in estimates of the media's views and those of politicians.

And the poll shows continuation of a longstanding target for military ire: the media. Just 11 percent of respondents said the media generally gets its facts straight. And nearly two-thirds said that news organizations damage the nation's defenses when they criticize the military.

Still, about two-thirds of respondents said it is better if coverage of the war on terrorism is neutral, compared to 29 percent who said coverage should be pro-American.

These polls do not reflect the entire US military, only professional military people. If you want a career in the military you don't attack a sitting president.