Sandra Bullock is not the only person in the midst of an ugly break-up these days. For decades, conservatives have prided themselves for their devotion to the armed services. Yet, in recent months, the right has gotten mean in its attacks on our military leadership and is even exploiting our troops. And it is playing out on reality television right in front of us--except it's on CSPAN and not MTV.
As veterans of America's current wars, it is deeply disconcerting for us to watch conservatives hurl reckless vitriol at our military leadership and now the constitution which we swore to defend. While public servants such as Admiral Mike Mullen, General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Bob Gates work to progress policy that will make our nation safer, conservatives have taken them to task, preferring sound-bites to sound policy.
But don't take our word for it. Just look to conservatives themselves.
Over the last few weeks we have seen a steady drum beat of conservative leaders and organizations misleading the public and exploiting our brave men and women in uniform and their families. Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and now even the right-wing American Patriot Foundation has gotten into the act.
Today, the American Patriot Foundation released a video in which they have taken advantage of active duty Lieutenant Colonel Terry Lakin and destroyed his career to forward their message of lies about the President's birth certificate. Watch his video:
It looks like LTC Terry Lakin will be court-martialed and lose his military career over a blatant lie. Even the Director of the Hawaiian State Department of Health has made statements "verifying Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen."
Why put this man's career in jeopardy over a lie?
They are doing this because conservatives have lost their connection with the military as veterans and military families across the nation are beginning to realize that progressive policies are better for both our Defense Department and our national security.
Instead of changing their policies they are turning to attacking and exploiting the military.
Let's start with climate change. Recently, a group of retired Admirals and Generals have been raising awareness about the threat that climate change poses to our national security. Instead of treating these warnings seriously, Senator James Inhofe (R- OK) attacked these heroes as "limelight" seekers who care more about fame than defending America.
Sorry, Mr. Senator, but the military establishment disagrees with you. The Pentagon recently released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which serves as the military's definitive statement of strategy. According to the QDR, "Climate change will have significant geopolitical impacts around the world...weakening fragile governments."
Is the Pentagon also just seeking the "limelight?" We don't think so.
Next up are the closely-related topics of Guantanamo Bay and torture. Our most distinguished military leaders - from General Colin Powell to General David Petraeus - have stated unequivocally that Guantanamo Bay must be closed. General Petraeus put it best in an interview with Fox News:
"Gitmo has caused us problems, there's no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us."
On the subject of torture, General Petraeus came out in strong opposition during the same Fox News interview:
"Does that not take away from our enemies a tool, which again they have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? And so as we move forward, I think it is important to again live our values."
Yet conservatives don't seem to think those values matter very much. From Dick Cheney and John Bolton, to Rush Limbaugh and John Boehner, not a day goes by when some spokesperson from the right ridicules attempts by our military to close Guantanamo Bay and prohibit the use of torture. We do not consider Colin Powell or David Petraeus to be men who wake up each day trying to make America less safe. Conservatives seem to disagree.
Lastly is the contentious debate over gays in the military. Last month, the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in support of changing the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that prevents openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Having served with gay soldiers and sailors, we agree that there is a need for change in the policy. In the words of the Admiral Mullen, "it comes down to integrity - theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
And the conservative response?
Incredibly, they attacked Admiral Mullen's integrity. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) accused Admiral Mullen of "undue command influence," while others piled on. Congressman Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA) attacked both the Secretary and the Chairman as being "biased." Appointed by President George W. Bush, these are men who have served our nation honorably for decades. It is shame that these politicians would drop to such low standards.
We have seen conservatives ignore scientists on climate change, as well as ignore distinguished business leaders such as Warren Buffet on issues related to fixing our economy. Now they are attacking the military on critical issues of national security. For so long, conservatives have portrayed themselves as walking lock-step with the military. It seems as though those happy days are gone.
But for our nation, there is nothing happy about this development. If there is anything we have taken from our service in the military, it is a deep respect for the individuals who lead us into and out of battle. Our military leaders deserve that same respect from all Americans, conservatives included. Let's hope they snap out of their recent spell, and treat our military with the respect it deserves.
Jonathan Powers is a US Army veteran of the Iraq war and the Chief Operating Officer of the Truman National Security Project. Robert Diamond is a US Navy veteran and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.
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