As I wrote yesterday, the presidentâs attempt to pass off the âMission Accomplishedâ sign as something the sailors on the USS Abraham Lincoln foisted on him was a big mistake.
Itâs dishonest, for one.
And having the commander-in-chief trying to pass off one of his political problems --- if admittedly one of the more minor ones --- on members of his military during wartime sends a rather inglorious message.
But this small story also points to a bigger one: this presidentâs political relationship with the American military and more broadly, his partyâs relationship with the military.
During the last presidential election a number of high-ranking, recently retired generals --- including Anthony Zinni --- endorsed president Bush. That wasnât quite unprecedented. But it got a lot of attention because it was outside the mold for whatâs been expected of retired four-star generals, especially ones just recently retired.
Yet, as I wrote back in early 2002, pretty much from the start the brass at the Pentagon ended up getting something very different from what theyâd expected. Though the ire focused on the presidentâs civilian appointees, rather than the president himself, the disgruntlement came quickly and grew apace over the presidentâs first two years in office.
Much of this was muted or set aside as the Pentagon ratcheted up for war in early 2003. But it resurfaced with a vengeance at mid-year as problems began to crop up in Iraq and it became increasingly clear that the president had taken the country -- and his military -- into a conflict on questionable pretenses and with no good plan for what weâd do there once we toppled the government.
Two things have happened in recent months. First, the animosity toward the administration --- or at least its appointees at the Pentagon --- has seeped down from the highest echelons of the officer corps down into its more junior ranks and the enlisted men and women on the ground. Second, thereâs a creeping sense that the problem goes higher than Don Rumsfeld. (To get some sense of this progression, leaf through publications like Army Times.)
As a political matter, the politics of the US military has implications beyond who the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines themselves vote for. There is a whole class of civilian voters that take their own cue from which party does better by the US military.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons why members of the military -- when disgruntled with or angry with Republicans and President Bush -- donât necessarily shift to the Democrats. But this growing alienation of many in the military from this president and his party could prove very important next year.
I think weâll be hearing a lot more about this issue in coming months. But the cover story ("Corps Voters" by Benjamin Wallace-Wells) of the new Washington Monthly begins the discussion with an excellent article on the subject. Take a look. Itâs up this morning over at the Monthly website.