Does media negativity hurt troop morale?
You betcha, and military commanders are expressing concern to Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
Pentagon officials say they are increasingly worried that Washington’s political fight over the Iraq war will dampen what has been high morale among troops fighting a tenacious and deadly enemy.
Commanders are telling Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that ground troops do not understand the generally negative press that their missions receive, despite what they consider significant achievements in rebuilding Iraq and instilling democracy.
The commanders also worry about the public’s declining support for the mission and what may be a growing movement inside the Democratic Party to advocate troop withdrawal from Iraq.
“They say morale is very high,” said a senior Pentagon official of reports filed by commanders with Washington. “But they relate comments from troops asking, ‘What the heck is going on back here’ and why America isn’t seeing the progress they are making or appreciating the mission the way those on the ground there do. My take is that they are wondering if America is still behind them.”
Mr. Rumsfeld appeared on several Sunday talk shows yesterday to express concern about the effects of the political discussion on U.S. forces.
“We also have to understand that our words have effects,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Put yourself in the shoes of a soldier who thinks that we’re going to pull out precipitously or immediately, as some people have proposed. Obviously, they have to wonder whether what they’re doing makes sense if that’s the idea, if that’s the debate.”
He repeated similar words on other shows, saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that war critics should “think about the troops that are there and how it sounds to them.” He also exhorted the audience on ABC’s “This Week” to “put yourself in the shoes of the American soldiers.”
The Dept. of Defense is denying that morale is actually down, but I’d bet money that the negative press has had an effect on troop morale that would not be viewed as even remotely positive.