Andrew Tilghman — Military Times Sept 11, 2013
To the list of skeptics who question the need for airstrikes against Syria, add an another unlikely group — many U.S. servicemembers.
A Military Times survey of more than 750 active-duty troops this week found servicemembers oppose military action in Syria by a ratio of about three to one.
The survey conducted online Monday and Tuesday found that about 75% of troops are not in favor of airstrikes in response to reports that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to kill its civilians.
A higher percentage of troops, about 80%, say they do not believe getting involved in the 2-year-old civil war is in the U.S. national interest.
The results suggest that opposition inside the military may be more intense than among the U.S. population at large. About 64% of Americans oppose airstrikes, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Monday.
The Military Times’ results are based on an unscientific survey of Times readers and reflect the views of many career enlisted members and officers.
For many troops, money is a key consideration. Troops question the cost of bombing Syria at a time when budget cuts are shrinking their pay raises, putting their benefits package at risk and forcing some of their friends to separate involuntarily.
“We don’t have money for anything else but we have a couple hundred million dollars to lob some Tomahawks and mount an expensive campaign in Syria?” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Chris Larue, a 39-year-old maintenance expert at Fort Eustis, Va., referring to the precision-guided missiles that are likely to be used in any strike.
The debate about striking Syria is also revealing a strain of isolationism growing inside a battle-weary military that has spent more than a decade supporting high-tempo war operations overseas.
“People are just sick of it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Harvey, a nuclear-trained officer who works at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
“It’s like the old pre-World War II isolationism, I hear grumblings of that. People would rather withdraw all our troops and let the rest of the world figure out what to do. I think there is a lot of credence to that argument,” he said.
Among troops who do favor mounting strikes against Syria, moral and humanitarian concerns are a top consideration.
“It’s a moral issue. If we are going to set ourselves up as the moral leaders in the world, then we have to act,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Noel Cumberland at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona.
Army Staff Sgt. Derek Harris, who is based at Fort Hood, Texas, agreed. “I’m not talking about it from a national security standpoint or a political standpoint. I’m talking about human rights,” said Harris.
Harris also said he is undaunted by the prospect of U.S. military involvement escalating beyond airstrikes and requiring the Army to deploy ground troops.
“It doesn’t worry me. It’s not that I welcome it, but I definitely wouldn’t mind getting back to work,” he said.
Many troops have concerns about the strategic logic of striking the Syrian regime and implicitly helping the rebels, which include some extremist groups linked to militants in Iraq who were killing U.S. troops just a few years ago.
“In my eyes, the rebels in Syria are the same as the insurgents in Iraq,” the staff sergeant from Fort Hood said.