October 29, 2008

Military Guest Commentary: Why I Will Vote Republican

* * * This insightful essay comes from a U.S. officer serving in Iraq. I quite enjoyed it, and hope you all will as well. Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A. * * *

By CPT. Hunter Hawke

The upcoming election is extremely important to everyone, but perhaps especially to members of the military. Thus, as a member of the military, drawing on the sum of my experiences, please allow me to explain why I will be voting Republican.

First, I believe the Democrats’ approach to foreign policy is both naïve and dangerous. Second, I simply do not believe the Democrats can do what they’re promising. They cannot continue to provide for a strong military, pay for their proposed entitlement programs, and not increase taxes. Third, they have not proved that they are capable of managing the military and our foreign policy competently.

To address my first point, I believe that a pragmatic approach to defense and foreign policy is the only reasonable one. My experiences in the military and Iraq specifically have left me doubting the good nature of man. I believe that the nature of man is not inherently good and the world is far more Hobbesian than most people would like to believe. Tribalism, corruption, cronyism, brutality and most every other vice known to man are prevalent throughout large portions of the world. You can see the symptoms of these base instincts in many other countries in the way they treat minority groups, woman, wealth distribution, elections, human rights, the press, the judiciary and so on. The governments of these countries are not equal partners with us, nor do they share the moral high ground. So when I hear the Democratic party in general and Senator Barrack Obama in particular talk about how we need to redefine our foreign policy by reaching out to these governments and people without these things in mind, it makes me ill.

The Democrats cite our standing in the court of world public opinion as evidence of the Bush administration’s disastrous handling of foreign policy. I think what they fail to understand is that the world is full of countries that would love nothing more than to see the end of American hegemony, be it economically, politically, or militarily. Some of their motives are not nefarious but rather that of a competitor. But what of those states who wish something else, something more sinister? An expansive Russia, a nuclear Iran, a radical Pakistan? Even today Zimbabwe, Sudan, North Korea, Venezuela, and countless others would love nothing more than to see an end to American hegemony. And who would suffer? Maybe we won’t, at least in the near term. But minority populations would suffer. Political dissenters would suffer. And American values such as woman’s rights, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and countless other values we hold dear would suffer. So to say that we are unpopular and use this as reasoning to fundamentally change our foreign policy is ridiculous. The question should be: are we doing what is morally correct?

What the Republicans have done and I strongly support is to undertake a program of aggressive engagement in foreign policy. Our military assistance abroad is a perfect example. Isolationism is no longer an option because power and influence have become a zero sum game. If we are not exerting influence or spreading American values, someone else is spreading theirs and it is to our collective detriment. We exert our influence, not to pander to our enemies, but to influence other countries to become something else, something better.

For example, over the last several years, we’ve undertaken a massive effort to combat AIDS in Africa and we’ve established an independent African military command to bolster the security of that continent. What we’ve done in Columbia is another example. I know a couple of guys who’ve spent years in Columbia training their Special Forces and intelligence organizations. What is underpublicized is the fact that the FARC, the strongest, most well equipped and well financed terrorist revolutionary organization in the western hemisphere, is now on the verge of total collapse. We didn’t negotiate with them; we defeated them.

A more specific example would be the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt as one of the culminating efforts of years of military assistance in Columbia. All of the resolutions in the parliaments of Europe, declarations of solidarity, and high level negotiations yielded nothing. She was rescued because the United States had aggressively supported the Columbian government for years. Now the Bush administration is trying to use Columbia as a template for the rest of South America and Africa. So it comes as no surprise that the countries most fearful and vocal about American power, like Venezuela, are also the ones who stand to lose.

That these countries stand up in the United Nations and decry our efforts around the globe is not only unsurprising but a testament of the great things we’re doing. Will we choose to ignore the world’s problems until they come knocking on our door? And what about the rest of the world? What are we going to do to ensure the security and prosperity of our allies and the innocent? Will we abandon them to appease our critics?

The Democrats offer the idea of soft power and negotiation as a means to accomplish our goals. But I would argue that soft power in a globalized world is largely a fraud because economic interdependence has made it increasingly difficult to employ. The Europeans refuse to stand up to Russia over the conflict with Georgia because Russia supplies most of their oil and natural gas. The Chinese oppose any intervention in the Sudan on the part of the United Nations because Sudan is one of their key trading partners. Are we going to abandon our allies and allow innocent people to be butchered because soft power is insufficient?

Europe, the center of soft power, is great at exercising their rhetorical skills, but what have they done for the people in Afghanistan, Columbia, Georgia, Darfur, and countless other countries? They can’t even send their own soldiers and humanitarian aid around the world unless it’s on board a US Navy destroyer or in an American C-130. The Europeans obviously lack the intestinal fortitude to do anything more than talk about their high ideals. That these same Europeans fall all over themselves to hear Sen. Obama speak should cast some doubt on their overwhelming support for him. Additionally, few of our allies have the resources or the commitment to do what we can. So it is left to the United States.

The Democrats say that we’re being too aggressive, but what’s the alternative? Certainly they offer nothing beyond soft power, rhetoric, and action in the United Nations. There are quite a few nations who stand to lose if we continue on our current path but I don’t believe we have another choice. These issues are too important and the consequences too grave to leave to a party that lacks the courage to do the right thing.

This leads me to the inevitable conclusion that the Democrats seemingly have no foreign policy goals beyond increasing our popularity abroad and maintaining some form of rudimentary security for the United States. This allows them to focus all of their efforts on their socialist domestic agenda but that’s another topic. The Democrats try to make their point by using Iraq as an example to show the failure of the republican approach. But they have neither a better approach to foreign policy nor a better plan for achieving our strategic goals.

President Bush was right to depose Saddam, but he went about reaching that objective with disastrous incompetence. Sen. Obama was wrong about the validity of deposing Saddam, in that it was deserving of our efforts, and even more wrong about the surge. If we had pulled out when he wanted and as he vigorously advocated, it would have resulted not only with Iraq being thrown into chaos, but the entire region may have erupted into a more widespread conflict. It also would have been tantamount to the betrayal of all the American service members who fought and died there.

Obama is trying to bolster his credentials to be commander in chief by saying that we’ve been distracted from our primary objective in Afghanistan. I remain unconvinced that he fully intends to follow through with the action plan his rhetoric has endorsed. Afghanistan is a tougher conflict than Iraq and will require additional years to sort out. I very much doubt that he has the spine for a protracted counterinsurgency and, even if he does, I doubt that his party does. At the end of the day, the fundamental difference between the foreign policy approaches of the two parties is that Democrats want to negotiate with our enemies while Republicans want to defeat them.

To address my second point, I have heard nothing from Sen. Obama about the importance he places on supporting the military beyond the opportunities he has to attack Sen. McCain on the topic. Furthermore, I’ve seen the effects of the Clinton administration on the military and I hope to God that it doesn’t happen again. During the Clinton years, budgets dwindled and manpower was slashed. Equipment was refurbished but no new equipment was procured. He took the Army that defeated the fifth largest standing army at the time in 100 hours and gutted it. He used the rational that the peace dividend brought about by winning the cold war more than justified the drawdown. Never mind the increasingly factitious and dangerous world that the fall of the iron curtain left behind.

Clinton and the Democratic Party, past and present, have never paid more than lip service to keeping a strong military. Their base demands expensive entitlement programs and the money has to come from somewhere. They can only raise taxes so much before the consequences, both political and economic, become too great. So the money comes from the most expensive government program that just so happens to be the most politically inconsequential for the Democrats. And since a strong military is not necessary to meet the Democratic foreign policy agenda, the temptation to slash military budgets is simply too great and the military’s ability to meet the enemies of our country suffers as a result.

Finally, I’ll use the Clinton years again to demonstrate that I don’t believe the Democratic Party can properly manage the military or foreign policy. Even more disastrous than the lack of financial and moral support for the military was the effect left by having a weak commander in chief. Because of Clinton’s past and the politics of his party, he could not politically afford to suffer military casualties abroad. This infused in the military a zero tolerance policy on casualties which resulted in an irrational approach to combat. We fight to win, not to avoid casualties. In combat, the mission always comes first and there is no substitute for victory. It might sound cliché but it’s the truth.

It has taken us years to overcome the Clinton mentality, and the last thing I want to see is a democratic administration take us back to the place where they cannot politically afford casualties so we either don’t fight or we do so in a cowardly and inept manner. We retreated from the field of battle in Somalia. We allowed more than half a million people in Rwanda to be butchered. We launched an ineffective and short lived humanitarian mission to Haiti that accomplished nothing. We did nothing to confront the rising threat of Islamic fanaticism. We abdicated our role as the leader of the free world. I do not believe that what we did then was the right thing and I believe that a democratic administration would take us down that same path.

If I had to pick a candidate based on my opinions on the military and foreign policy, without doubt, I would pick John McCain. I voted for him in the 2000 primaries and I think that, as a party, we made a mistake in picking Bush over him. After McCain, I would pick every single other Republican candidate. And after that, I would pick Joe Lieberman. And if I could pick none of the above, I would look into moving to Montana to ride out the coming storm.

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