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Republican vs. Democrat–The Armed Forces Perspective

Republican

Andrew Kletzing (NC), Contributing Writer

On Nov. 4, military servicemen/women and veterans will cast their vote for President and most will probably do so for Republican John McCain. Much of this can be attributed to demographics; the majority of those who choose to serve are already predisposed to voting for Republicans. However, many military vets remain suspicious of a Democratic Presidential nominee who, even today, can’t bring himself to use the word “victory” when describing his plans for Iraq – promising instead to “bring an end” to the war. Sen. Obama clearly believes that the Iraq war is a distraction that should never have been fought and I respect this opinion. However, the American military sacrificed dearly over the past 5 years to create a secure and stable democracy in Iraq. Now that this goal is within sight, why jeopardize the hard-fought gains by calling for a strict 16-month timeline for withdrawal? Why not adjust the strategy as the situation on the ground changes? Sen. Obama first called for a 16-month withdrawal back in November of 2006 and continues to do so today. The fact that he refuses to change his strategy, despite a rapidly improving situation, shows that he cares less about the eventual outcome of the war than he does about pacifying the anti-war left.

Let’s be clear. The choice between Senators Obama and McCain is not a choice between withdrawing from Iraq and staying indefinitely. The United States is already withdrawing troops from Iraq and is negotiating a Status of Forces Agreement which includes a “time horizon” with further goals for U.S. troop withdrawal – contingent on a stable security situation. John McCain will continue this withdrawal, but he will do so only after victory is assured. He will bring our troops home with honor.

On Afghanistan, Sen. Obama has staked out a more “hawkish” position than Sen. McCain. In addition to supporting a “surge” of 2 Brigades to Afghanistan (which he still insists didn’t work in Iraq), Sen. Obama has proposed sending U.S. troops on missions across the Pakistani border without the Pakistani government’s permission. (Currently, the U.S. military attacks targets inside Pakistan with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but does not openly send conventional forces across the border on missions). Cynics might conclude that Sen. Obama’s proposal is a careful attempt by the Democratic nominee to not appear “dovish” to the American electorate and that Sen. Obama actually has no intention of violating international borders. Such cynics will probably be proven right. After all, does anyone expect the most liberal Senator in Congress to violate international borders and risk further destabilization in a critical region of the world? He’s already backtracked on renegotiating NAFTA, public financing for his election and telecom immunity for wiretapping. What’s next to go? I predict the middle class tax cut.

To his credit, Sen. Obama has joined Sen. McCain in calling for increased benefits for military veterans, such as better health care and educational benefits. These benefits are important and necessary. But on the question of who would make a better Commander-in-Chief, the choice is clear: Sen. John McCain.

Democrat

Josh Levine (G, Class of 2007), Contributing Writer

In the past, “the military vote” has been relatively easy to characterize. Despite our diversity, servicemembers and veterans are bound by a common belief in strong national defense and the shared experience that the services’ quality of life is directly related to defense spending. The military provides your house and children’s schooling, not just your salary. Candidates aside (older white guy versus older white guy), more money is better. Republicans since Reagan have voted consistently for strong defense policies and funding, and have thus handily won the military vote.

But we cannot put the candidates aside this time around. Our choice is not between two unremarkable older white guys; our choice is between a groundbreaking minority candidate and a venerable war hero. Identity voting is common in the general population. I expect the military to be no different, but with whom will servicemembers identify? 62% of the military is under 30, and 30% of the ranks are non-white. Partly due to demographics and Obama’s appeal to youth, I expect the Democratic candidate to capture a significantly larger than normal share of military votes.
The obvious and most important question is, “How do nearly seven years of war play into the decision-making process for military voters?” But the answer is different for every servicemember. War is personal; everyone’s experience is unique. Some soldiers want to finish what we started, while others feel betrayed by the past administration and think we should leave Iraq immediately. Others hold every possible opinion in between.

One thing is for certain though: no one at the voting booth has a bigger stake in the outcome than servicemembers. And no one knows that better than General and former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose endorsement of Barack Obama says more to me about shifting military views than it does about a political party in turmoil. Estimates are that Bush received 60% – 80% of the military vote in 2004. I believe Powell’s endorsement, coupled with the effects of identity voting, will split the military vote, if not push it slightly Democratic.

As for me, I have made my choice and I feel very strongly about my candidate. However, my opinion is just my opinion. I would not presume to speak for the military community, especially when our opinions are more diverse than ever.

October 27, 2008
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