Since coming home from Iraq last July, people I talk to invariably fall into a short list of questions.
1) Are you glad to be home? This is more of an icebreaker than anything, since the small percentage of the US population serving in the military means that most people have no idea how to start a conversation with an Iraq or Afghan war vet. The answer, of course, is that I could talk your ear off about how many ways I am glad to be home.
2) How was it over there? Usually asked by people who are wary of the media coverage of the war, it also comes up from liberals who oppose the war and want a first hand account to share with their friends. My answer is usually that the actual amount of violence in Iraq, even in the dark days of summer 2006, was never near what the media reported it to be.
3) Who do you support for president? This one took me by surprise. Why would anyone want the opinion of an infantry grunt (who never saw the inside of a college) about something as important as who the next president should be? But the question usually comes in two slants-those who oppose the war almost to the point of psychosis and want something to validate their view, and those who want the opinion of a combat vet on who the next Commander in Chief should be.
I have refused to answer the third question for one reason thus far. I refused to pay attention in the year 2007 to an election that will not take place until late in 2008. Those of you who have been beating the drum for your candidate and for an earlier Minnesota caucus are greasing the train tracks for the coming nightmare in American politics. Don’t try to deny it, you all know who you are. By the time my kids can vote, the campaign season will start on the Wednesday after the Tuesday elections.
That being said, I wanted to finally answer all those who asked who I would support. First though, understand that I am an independent voter. I voted for David Minge (D) in 2000, Jessie Ventura (I) in 1998, and Bill Clinton (D) in 1996. And I don’t regret any of those votes. Since 9/11 however, the war is the number one issue for me, so it’s no surprise that I’ve voted straight Republican since than.
Focusing just on the war in Iraq, none of the Democratic (MoveOn) candidates are an option for me. They have all indicated that they would withdraw US troops from Iraq based on politics, rather than the security on the ground and the opinion of the military commanders. Moral issues aside, I don’t think any of them understands just how massive and complex of a logistical issue it would be to move 140,000 US troops out of a combat zone in a 6-9 month window. Keep in mind that it took us months to move all the forces into place for the initial invasion, and that was done in friendly countries with no one shooting at us.
But there is a wide open slate of Republican candidates to look at.
Ron Paul looks great on paper. His staunch opposition to wasteful government spending and his support of an alternative to the income tax make me almost giddy. But giddiness turns to nausea when I look at his isolationist viewpoint. Isolationism was a naïve worldview in 1939 when Der Furher was on the march half a world away. Today, when there may be terrorists living among us waiting to strike, we have the options of hitting the terrorists where they live, or surrendering our country and our way of life. It’s that simple.
Mike Huckabee also looks ok on paper. He supports the war and looks to be a fiscal conservative. But his recent gaffes on foreign policy about Pakistan got my attention. And then his total brainfart in showing a negative ad that he then refused to show scared me. Either he’s playing pure political games, or he honestly didn’t understand how shallow he looked. Whether he’s a weasel or he’s addled, I don’t want him in charge.
Mitt Romney would be a decent choice for president. I don’t know much about Mormonism, and frankly I don’t care. As long as he sees the big picture on religion similar to me, it’s not an issue. But I do have a reflexive paranoia about guys who make a ton of money in the private sector and then slide smoothly into high government office. And neither he nor his 5 sons have ever served in uniform. That makes me think that he does a great job espousing the principles of freedom, but is a little hazy on how freedom is ultimately paid for.
Rudy Guliani, the man of the day on 9/11. Going only on the issue of the war, I could vote for Rudy and be happy. I have no doubt that Rudy would order the military to attack nearly anywhere to prevent another mass attack on US soil. But we could win the war only to find we lost at home. Rudy’s social issues aside, his surrender on illegal immigration was just plain wrong. He may say it was necessary for the greater good. I say he punted the problem to the next generation.
John McCain is the one man in this race that really has me torn. On the one hand, he served more than honorably in Vietnam and managed to put his life back together after years as a POW. On the other hand, he is hyper sensitive to the issue of torture, to the extent that he has handicapped US troops in how we can deal with detainees. On the one hand, he has consistently supported the tax cuts which kept us from a widespread recession. On the other hand, he addressed the problem of too much money in politics by choosing to limit free speech. On the one hand, he has been the staunchest supporter of the war in Iraq and the war on terror in all of Congress. On the other hand, he has actively pushed for amnesty which would bring chaos to our borders. The most aggressive foreign policy is useless if we intentionally allow the enemy to attack us from within. But the thing that constantly nags me about McCain is that over the last decade he has made it quite plain that he really wants to be president.
Which brings me to Fred Thompson. I can’t help but empathize with a man who is as reluctant to be president as I was to volunteer for Iraq. He is conservative across the board on both fiscal and social issues. He got high marks from the American Conservative Union, and aggressively opposes new entitlement programs. He can speak eloquently without resorting to 6 second sound bites. He understands quite clearly the danger posed by terrorism, and the danger in responding too weakly. While other candidates were handing out presents and levitating bookcases, his Christmas message simply asked everyone to say a prayer for our troops in harm’s way. Fred Thompson is the only candidate for president that I can fully support. Everyone else is simply a better alternative to Hillary.
This isn’t a decision I take lightly. The war on terror isn’t going to end anytime soon, so there’s a good chance that my fellow soldiers and I will be deployed again in the next president’s term. Whether to Iraq, Afghanistan, or the next front in the war.
Fred Thompson is the only one that I would follow wherever he leads.