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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, military personnel have been among the staunchest supporters of President Bush's policy in the Middle East. But a new poll coming out this week from the Military Times newspapers indicates falling support for the war among active duty personnel who subscribe to the papers.

Robert Hodiern is the senior managing editor of that publishing group and joins me now.

Hello.

Mr. ROBERT HODIERN (Military Times): Hi.

ELLIOTT: What did your readers say of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq?

Mr. HODIERN: Well, they don't much approve of it anymore. As you said, they've been staunch supporters of his policy. The high water mark back in 2004, about two-thirds of them said they approved. That's down to just over one-third now.

ELLIOTT: What does that tell you?

Mr. HODIERN: It tells me that this group that we survey who are the professional core of the military, who presumably really understand what's going on, have lost confidence in the path that he's chosen to take in prosecuting this war.

ELLIOTT: And I noted in your survey that two-thirds of those who answered this survey had been deployed at least one time to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mr. HODIERN: Yeah, these are not your armchair warriors. These are folks who have actually put their boots on the ground in the combat zone. They're older, more experienced than the rank and file. We really don't get much of the first termers, as one academic put it. What we get are the people who have decided to make a career out of the military.

ELLIOTT: They also are much more pessimistic about the likelihood of the U.S. succeeding. At the start of the war, your survey indicated a high degree of confidence that the U.S. would succeed in Iraq.

Mr. HODIERN: In the order of magnitude, 75 or 80 percent of the people told us that they thought they were likely or very likely to succeed there. That's down around 50 percent and particularly if you parse it, the very likely to succeed, the very optimistic top end of that scale went from 38 percent at the start of the war down to 13 percent now.

ELLIOTT: Military personnel tend to be pretty optimistic about their likelihood. They're not trained to say no, right?

Mr. HODIERN: No, they're trained to say can-do. And they will give it their very best effort. It's one of the signature characteristics of the military personality, is that if you give them a mission, they will try their darnedest to accomplish it. And it's an interesting blend of conservatism and idealism that causes them to be very can-do. And right now, they're saying can't-do.

ELLIOTT: You know, one of the more interesting figures that I saw in this survey was what they thought about the need for U.S. troops to be in Iraq over the long term. You know, we've heard a lot of talk recently here in Washington about pulling troops out of Iraq in the coming year. But 80 percent of the military personnel you surveyed said they believe that the U.S. would need to stay in Iraq for at least three more years and 20 percent said it would take more than 10 years to stabilize Iraq.

Mr. HODIERN: Yeah, and these numbers are pretty consistent the last few years, which means we're not making any progress. You'd think that if last year they said five years, this year they'd say four. And instead, that line is sort of getting pushed out. And the corollary to that is that not only do they think that we need to stay there a long time, they think we ought to have more troops there.

It's not clear in my mind where they think those troops are going to come from, but they think that if they had more troops and more time and if the American public stays behind them, they can get this mission done.

ELLIOTT: They also talked a little bit about how long it would take to prepare Iraqi troops to replace them and they also had a long view on that.

Mr. HODIERN: Yeah, that's - they're looking out five years on that too, before they in great numbers think that the Iraqis will be able to replace us. And I would describe that from my own personal observations there as optimistic.

ELLIOTT: Now other than the questions about the war in Iraq and how the president is handling things, you asked a lot of questions just about the general condition of the military and the morale. What did you find?

Mr. HODIERN: The morale is very high. In overwhelming numbers they say they're satisfied with their job. They would reenlist. They would recommend this career to other people, including their own children. They're happy with their pay, with their healthcare. We can't find anything that their unhappy with, except the war.

ELLIOTT: Since your respondents sent in your answers, President Bush has started talking publicly more about the difficulties he's facing in Iraq and the need to come up with a new plan. Do you think you might have gotten different answers had you sent the poll out today?

Mr. HODIERN: Well, who knows? You know, polling is always, you're always shooting at a moving target. And we might have gotten different answers. But I would say this, that if the plan that the president puts forward is merely a cosmetic tweaking of the current policy, this crowd will see right through that. And I think what they've expressed in this poll is a great deal of dissatisfaction with this president's leadership on the war. And he's going to have to do something significant and credible to that audience to get them to change their mind.

ELLIOTT: Robert Hodiern is the senior managing editor of the Army Times publishing group.

Thank you for coming in.

Mr. HODIERN: Always my pleasure, Debbie.

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