Recently, Military.com, a large insider website directed at the military and veteran communities, polled its readers on when US troops should withdraw from Iraq and the results proved a surprise: "Nearly 60 percent of readers who participated... said the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq now or by the end of 2008. More than 40 percent of the respondents agreed the pullout should begin immediately because 'we're wasting lives and resources there.'" (A minority 41 percent voted to fight on "until the insurgency is totally defeated.") This was, of course, a self-selecting vote of 5,440 Military.com readers, but no less startling for that.
Add in another modest set of recent figures and perhaps you have a hint of a shift in the sentiments of a military that has, in the last decades, been increasingly supportive of the Republican Party and an imperial foreign policy. Recently, the Federal Election Commission released its July quarterly figures on contributions to presidential candidates--and Congressman Ron Paul f Texas modestly made the news because the libertarian candidate managed to pull in more money than that military icon (and war supporter) Senator John McCain for the quarter and so slipped into third place in the Republican presidential dollars sweepstakes. Since Paul garners but 2 to 3 percent of the vote in recent presidential opinion polls (up from 1 percent earlier in the year), this was certainly striking in itself--an effect perhaps of his exposure in the ongoing presidential TV debates where he manages, on Iraq among other subjects, to sound like neither a Republican Tweedledum, nor Tweedledee.
The only Republican in the race who opposes the war, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, has drawn a relative bounty of donations in response and now has more money to spend than the onetime presumed front-runner for the nomination,
But hidden in Paul's poll figures was another story--possibly far more consequential--that's been noticed only by a few blogs and websites that actually bothered to sort out and add up the numbers. (The first to do so was evidently The Spin Factor; the latest and fullest accounting is at Isilion, a blog for Paul.) The candidate who (along with Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson in the Democratic column) simply wants the US out of Iraq, no ifs, ands, or buts--no "combat brigades" vs. advisors--got a higher tally of contributions from people who have "military employers" than any other candidate in the race, Republican or Democrat. (Check out Paul "contributions by employer" and scroll down to US Army and US Navy; then compare to McCain, who came in second.) Overall, Paul beat out McCain in military contributions $24,965 to $17,475.
Now admittedly, members of the military are giving, at best, modest sums to presidential candidates; so, as with the Military.com on-line vote, these numbers are anything but overwhelming. Nonetheless, they are deserving of more attention than just online comments at Andrew Sullivan's blog and the Iraq Slogger website, as well as an instant mainstream dismissal from Fox commentator Michael Barone. ("My guess is that [Paul] used some libertarian-type mailing lists that happen to have a lot of people in the military on them," he said.) It would be more reasonable to assume that contributions to Paul (who has championed the needs of veterans) were actually limited not just by military restraint about getting involved in a political campaign, but by anxiety over being identified with a man whose position on Iraq, in the New York Times' phrase, is: "Just leave."
Until we get some better military polling figures, these two straws in the wind --the Military.com poll and Paul's campaign contributions, along with anecdotal evidence of various sorts--may be the best we can hope for. But let's also keep history in mind--at least the history of our country's last disastrous war of this sort. Don't forget that, Col. Robert D. Heinl, author of the "definitive history of the Marine Corps," wrote in 1971 when a withdrawal from Vietnam of US troops but not advisors or air power was well underway, that the armed forces were already in a state that had "only been exceeded in this century by the French Army's Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies [of Russia] in 1916 and 1917."
Present US forces are, of course, all-volunteer, not draftees (or not exactly anyway, given recent tour extensions in Iraq and other kinds of forced call-ups), but why should they want to be endlessly redeployed to a lost war in a lost land? By the time the Bush Administration is done, the Paul campaign may be swimming in military money.