For decades, the conventional wisdom was that the Republican Party was the party of the military. And while no party has or ever will monopolize military support, certainly Republicans had a good amount of support from some big names - from Eisenhower to Powell.
In recent years, however, as Republicans have abandoned ideals that make our military strong - no nation building using our Armed Forces, looking for strong alliances to join us in action, operating on a moral high ground when we do use force, and commitment to a strong enough and large enough force - we've seen big names head towards supporting Democrats - from General Wesley Clark and Major General Paul Eaton to General John Shalikashvili, General Joseph Hoar, and General Hugh Shelton. Oh, and Colin Powell.
That shift towards Democrats, and especially President Obama and Hillary Clinton during the primary, is about to be fast tracked, as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney take control of Republican messaging, ideals, practices, and policies.
Ideals that include torturing detainees, hoping for a "24-like" moment that neatly helps dismantle terrorist networks, instead of giving them their best recruiting tool. It goes against everything we learn in the Army Field Manual (which forbids torture), and what we know works on the ground. For example, when we urgently needed information about insurgents in Iraq, we didn't bring in a local leader and torture him, no matter what. Doing so would have only inflamed things and made it impossible for us to effectively operate in an area again.
Practices based on use of force first, like Newt Gingrich's odd contention that if he was President, he'd go into North Korea and bomb away to destroy their missiles, unphased by what that would actually mean.
And, policies like favoring big contracts for high-end weapons systems and air power, over a military with a strong ground component - championed by Donald Rumsfeld. Policy still backed by those who would put more money into experimental weapons systems over growing the size of our enlisted forces, which would only hamstring our ability to effectively operate.
For all I disagree on with Senator John McCain, he may have been the Republicans best hope at stemming the trend, by at least voicing opposition to torture, and standing firm on Pentagon waste and bloated contracts, worried more about practical equipment that could help our troops in the field. Now, with Senator McCain vanquished within his own party by those who weaseled their way out of service in Vietnam, no one seems to be in the way of taking the Republican Party full-tilt to the anti-military-ideals fringe.
It's hard to remember, but when General Wesley Clark retired, and was rumored to be interested in politics leading to 2004, there was some buzz wondering if he would be a Democrat or Republican. It says a lot, because even though he supported Democrats privately while serving, there still was a sliver of space for someone like General Clark in the Republican Party, making such speculation not too outlandish.
It reminds me of recent news involving another General.
Last year, those on the right loved General David Petraeus. You couldn't debate anyone on the neocon side without them trying to hide behind the General. There were even rumors swirling that Republicans would recruit him to be their nominee in 2012. Then, supporters of Governor Palin championed her nomination in four years, but they thought General Petraeus would make a fine subordinate to the Governor in a Dream Ticket to take on President Obama.
Well, don't look now, but our friend Sam Stein at reported here:
General David Petraeus said this past weekend that President Obama's decision to close down Gitmo and end harsh interrogation techniques would benefit the United States in the broader war on terror.
General Petraeus goes on to say that he believes we need to stay within the Geneva Convention, and that closing Gitmo "sends an important message to the world, as does the commitment of the United States to observe the Geneva Convention when it comes to the treatment of detainees."
Of course, this flies in the face of the Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney crowd - those who believe that we're safer when we do things that serve as great recruiting tools for al Qaeda.
There's no doubt that General Petraeus would be a powerful nominee for Republicans in 2012. One has to wonder, however, if with Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh calling the shots, the GOP is a Dream Party for him.