• What Mayor Pete Won’t Tell You: The Role of Military Service in the 2020 Election

    June 8, 2019 // 4 Comments »

    What is the role of military service in the 2020 election?

    As another Memorial Day passed, Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized Trump for reportedly considering pardons for several service members accused of war crimes, calling the idea “slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served” (those pardons never happened; fake news?) The 37-year-old Democrat mocked the president, saying “I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on Celebrity Apprentice when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan.” Mayor Pete defended NFL national anthem protests noting “Trump would get it if he had served.” He claims he “put his life on the line” for those rights.

    He gets away unchallenged with these shots because critical thought on military service is the third rail of journalism. But context matters. Pete Buttigieg did all of six months in 2014 as a reservist deep inside Bagram air base, mostly as a personal driver for his boss, locked and loaded inside a Toyota Land Cruiser. It is unlikely he ever ate a cold meal in Afghanistan.

    On the campaign trail, Pete refers to himself “as the first veteran president since George H.W. Bush.” Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Seth Moulton was a platoon commander in the initial company of Marines to enter Baghdad in 2003, returning for a total of four combat deployments. Tulsi Gabbard did two full tours in the Middle East, one inside Iraq. She volunteered to become the first state official to step down from public office to serve in a war zone, 10 years before Pete. So if you wanna measure for size, bro, the line forms behind Seth and Tulsi.

    Everyone at war has different experiences, and unless you’re the dude who held bin Laden’s still-beating heart in his hand (and then took a bite out of it), someone had it tougher than you. But Mayor Pete is milking it for all it is worth politically, stretching a short tour into civics lessons he suggests one just can’t get any other way.

    But if Mayor Pete is going to make much of his service as part of his public biography, and especially if he wants to invite comparisons among himself, other candidates, and other presidents, then his short military tenure cannot be treated as bullet-proof. As one vet put it, “If he’s going to use his combat time as a discriminator, then it gets to be evaluated.”

    Veteran (Bosnia, Iraq 2004-6, 2008-11, Afghanistan 2011-12) and now podcaster Pete Turner writes “I give Mayor Pete all the credit in the world for deploying. However, there is a difference in the quality and severity of the types of combat veterans. Mayor Pete is more of a combat tourist than a warrior. People with one short combat tour, with access to that delicious fresh baked bread they made daily at the Bagram Air Force base, need to ease up on their warrior status.”

    “He went to war, that’s commendable and honorable. But that’s where it stops. People with his pedigree of deployment acknowledge that they spent a short tour and barely got away from their desk. They certainly don’t lean on that service as a credential for presidential candidacy.”

    Mayor Pete, however, might be the first to suggest even a little service produces a better man than none at all, clearly his opinion of the man dubbed “President Bone Spurs.” Buttigieg, alongside the New York Times (who interviewed the aging daughters of the now-dead doctor who diagnosed Trump), has called that medical diagnosis a fraud and “an assault on the honor of this country.”

    Maybe so. But for those who like comparisons, current front-runner Joe Biden received five student draft deferments, the same number as Dick Cheney, and in 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, was medically reclassified as “not available” due to having had asthma as a teen. In his autobiography Biden describes his active childhood, being a lifeguard, and playing high school football. His Vice Presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. There’s no record of the New York Times tracking down Biden’s dead doctor’s daughters to investigate medical draft fraud.

    If military service is important and Vietnam-era medical deferments open to question, maybe Mayor Pete should also be talking about Biden alongside Trump. And if you are learning about Biden’s multiple deferments for the first time, ask yourself why.

    Left out of all of this is context. American men of a certain age all had to make a choice about Vietnam. They made those choices not in the jingoistic context of 2019 when we all Support Our Troops and wave away concerns about righteousness with slogans like “Love the Warrior, Hate the War.” Instead, 60% of men in the Vietnam generation took active measures to qualify for a deferment, while up to 90% National Guard enlistments (domestic service instead of Vietnam) were draft-motivated. Trump’s (Clinton’s, Cheney’s, Biden’s, Sanders’, Bush’s, et al) story is “surprisingly typical of his generation,” wrote one historian.

    The Vietnam-era military was not a widely loved institution. Many veterans, at least when they spoke about it back then, were more ashamed than proud, and actively encouraged young men to avoid serving. Families were weary of sending sons to Vietnam, from where over 58,000 Americans never came home (compared to under 7,000 dead in the 18 years of the War on Terror and its sequels.) The military was wounded by failure in Southeast Asia, drugs, and racism. Vietnam was the era of fragging, soldiers killing their own officers, in numbers far lower than movies would have you believe, but which left officers living under threats far greater than any Lieutenant Buttigieg could conceive of in Afghanistan.

    Down one path or another more than 15 million men of Trump and Biden’s generation sought to avoid military service in Vietnam. So in that context Buttigieg should also mention Bernie Sanders, who applied for conscientious objector status until he aged out of the draft. Mitt Romney received both student and religious deferments to avoid Vietnam.

    When Bill Clinton’s student deferments ran out, he sought help to faux register with a local reserve unit, and then to hide his draft paperwork until he left for England. Clinton as president refused to discuss in detail his various maneuvers to avoid service, which allegedly included an attempt at renouncing his citizenship at the American Embassy in London. Clinton wrote to one man who purposefully delayed his case to thank him for “saving me from the draft.”

    Context matters. As the New York Times said when he was running for president, “Bill Clinton worked to avoid the draft, at times cleverly, but in ways that accorded with accepted common practice among others of his generation. Against that history, this Vietnam echo looks like an irrelevance that ought not distract New Hampshire voters from judging Bill Clinton on his merits… to single him out as some sort of devious draft-dodger does him, and the anguish of Vietnam, an injustice.”

    The Times’ 1992 point is more valid when talking about Trump than the hit pieces they write in 2019. During the Vietnam War-draft era, most who could afford college or to pay the right doctor could get a deferment. Others took a middle road, the George W. Bush‘s and Dan Quayle‘s who joined National Guard units and got credit for some form of service without the stain of Vietnam on their nice clothing.

    For those without money, failing their physical by gaining or losing substantial amounts of weight, or claiming to be gay, worked. Bruce Springsteen made his own success outwitting Army doctors a reflective centerpiece of his Broadway show. One hundred thousand Americans left for Canada, breaking the law to avoid service (President Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon to them.) Some 3,250 refused to cooperate with the draft and went to prison.

    In the end only 2.2 million men were drafted during the Vietnam War period out of an eligible pool of 27 million, meaning some 9 out of 10 found an alternative. And in the end no Vietnam vet (see John McCain and John Kerry) has ever been elected president, and two who dodged the draft were.

    Like hauling out old yearbook photos to sanctimoniously judge them in the Pure Light of 2019, Pete Buttigieg is wrong to compare his service to anyone but his peers, because the real questions didn’t end when the draft did in 1973. It would be more important for Pete not to use Vietnam-era actions as a hypocritical political cudgel, but to tell us why he volunteered to serve and why Obama, and now Booker, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, and the rest did not. Though a draft didn’t force them to decide, they decided. Though they did not face the legal issues of an earlier generation, the more important existential ones – what do you owe your country, what is the value of service, who goes in your place when you stay home to focus on college and career – get sharper as they get even easier to dodge.

    The post-Vietnam candidates now seeking the presidency followed much the same path of privilege as the one Buttigieg selectively despises, but have done so without their choices being questioned. Maybe it’s time to do that.

    Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump

    Happy Hypocritical Memorial Day from Mayor Pete

    May 27, 2019 // 5 Comments »


    “In his interview on ABC, Buttigieg criticized Trump for reportedly considering pardons for several U.S. service members accused of war crimes, calling the idea ‘slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served.'” (NOTE: These Memorial Day pardons of “war criminals” the media has been talking about for weeks have not actually happened. Check your fake news folder…)

    The 37-year-old Democrat then ratcheted up his attacks on Trump, mocking the president’s past role on the reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice in a another interview. “I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on Season 7 of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan,” Buttigieg said. He called Trump’s medical deferment for foot bone spurs during the Vietnam War “an assault on the honor of this country.”

    Pete has also defended those ancient history kneeling NFL national anthem protests, saying “Trump would get it if he had served,” explaining that military service is all about defending the Bill of Rights on a personal level. In his autobiography, Pete makes much of having spent time in “an imminent danger pay area,” basically the current official pay status classification for most of the mideast. On the campaign trail, Mayor Pete pitches himself “as the first veteran president since George H.W. Bush.”

    Hurrah!

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg did all of six months in 2014 as a reservist deep inside Bagram air base, mostly as a driver for his boss, all high speed, locked and loaded inside a civvie Toyota Land Cruiser. It is highly unlikely he ever ate a cold meal.

    Everyone who spent time in war had different challenges and experiences, and unless you’re the dude who held bin Laden’s still-beating heart in your hand (and then took a bite out of it), someone certainly had it tougher and rougher than you.  But Mayor Pete sure is milking it for all its worth politically, stretching a short tour as close to not being in the military at all into leadership and civics lessons he suggests one just can’t get any other way. He has stated he has “more military experience than anybody to walk into that office on day one since George H.W. Bush.” His service, to him, makes him uniquely qualified among all current candidates of both parties, and if you question it then well, maybe that’s un-American.

    The thing is if Mayor Pete is going to make much of his service as part of his public biography, and especially if he wants to invite comparisons between himself, other candidates, and other presidents, to draw lessons on leadership and courage from his experience, then his short military tenure cannot be treated as bullet-proof. He wants us to look. We’ll look. As one veteran put it, “If he’s going to use his combat time as a discriminator, then it gets to be evaluated.”

    Veteran (Joint Endeavor Bosnia, Iraqi Freedom 2004-6, 2008-10, New Dawn Iraq 2010-11 and Enduring Freedom Afghanistan 2011-12) and now podcaster Pete Turner writes “I give Mayor Pete all the credit in the world for deploying. However, there is a difference in the quality and severity of the types of combat veterans. Mayor Pete is more of a combat tourist than a warrior. People with one short combat tour, which meant minding a desk, with access to that delicious fresh baked bread they made daily at the Bagram Air Force base DFAC cafeteria, need to ease up on their warrior status. He’s clearly a combat vet, but discussing it, as he does, is cheapening his experience.”

    “Here’s the truth. If he was to go outside the wire, he’d be a liability to any patrol. I don’t mean to be unfair or unkind but, whatever ‘contribution’ he delivered would at best be forgotten the moment he stepped forward off the battlefield. He went to war, that’s commendable and honorable. But that’s where it stops. People with his pedigree of deployment acknowledge that they spent a short tour and barely got away from their desk. They certainly don’t lean on that service as a credential for presidential candidacy.”

    Mayor Pete might be the first to suggest even a little service produces a better man than none at all, clearly his opinion of the current president who the media has dubbed “President Bone Spurs.” Buttigieg, alongside the New York Times (who interviewed the aging daughters of the doctor who diagnosed Trump for its story), has called that medical diagnosis a fraud.

    Maybe so. But for those who like comparisons to Trump, current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden received five student draft deferments at the peak of the Vietnam War, same number as Dick Cheney, and in 1968, he was reclassified by the Selective Service as “not available” due to having had asthma as a teen. In his autobiography, Promises to Keep, Biden talks alot about his active childhood, his work as a lifeguard, and his high school football career. Asthma, no. His Vice Presidential physicals mention is multiple aneurysms, but are silent on asthma.

    If military service is important and Vietnam-era medical deferments open to question, maybe Mayor Pete should also be talking about Biden alongside Trump. And if you are hearing about Biden’s multiple deferments for the first time here, ask yourself why. Better yet, ask your favorite MSM person why not, perhaps after they’ve done their most recent “Candidate Bone Spurs” punch piece.

    Left out of the shallow jibes Buttigieg tosses at Trump (but withholds against Biden, against whom he is actually currently running) is context. American men of a certain age all had to decide what they were going to do about Vietnam. They did it likely unaware of how a young man’s decisions might affect an old man’s life. They also made their choice not in the post-9/11 jingoistic context of 2019 when we all Support Our Troops and wave away concerns about propriety and righteousness with slogans like “Love the Warrior, Hate the War.”

    The Vietnam-era and especially the post-Vietnam military was not a widely loved institution, and was actually despised by a wide swath of the country. Families were weary of sending sons to die in Vietnam, from where over 58,000 Americans never came home, compared to under 7,000 in the 18 years of the War on Terror and its sequels. Even those who served in the military of that era characterize it as a broken institution wounded by failure in Southeast Asia, drugs, and racism. Vietnam was the era of fragging, soldiers killing their own officers, in numbers far lower than movies would have you believe, but which left officers living under threats far greater than any Lieutenant Buttigieg could conceive of in Afghanistan. The draft which Trump and Biden avoided ended in 1973 and the U.S. military slowly clawed its way to again becoming a professional military under an all-volunteer system.

    But before that Bernie Sanders, also seeking the Commander-in-Chief job, did not go to Vietnam. He applied for conscientious objector status until he aged out of the draft.

    Bill Clinton received multiple draft deferments to stay out of Vietnam. When his student deferments ran out after changes in the law, Clinton sought help from powerful relatives first to falsely join a local reserve unit, and then to hide his draft paperwork until he left for study in England. Clinton as president refused to discuss in detail his various maneuvers to avoid service, which allegedly included an attempt at renouncing his American citizenship at the American Embassy in London.

    As the New York Times generously wrote of Clinton when he was running for president, “Bill Clinton worked to avoid the draft, at times cleverly, but in ways that accorded with accepted common practice among others of his generation. Against that history, this Vietnam echo looks like an irrelevance that ought not distract New Hampshire voters from judging Bill Clinton on his merits… to single him out as some sort of devious draft-dodger does him, and the anguish of Vietnam, an injustice.”

    The Times’ 1992 point is more valid when talking about Trump than the hit pieces they write in 2019 about him “dodging the draft.” During the Vietnam War-draft era, anyone who could afford college or to pay the right doctor could avoid the military with student and medical deferments, and many — including Trump, Biden, Cheney, and Clinton — did. Others took a middle road, the George W. Bush’s and Dan Quayle’s (George H.W. Bush’s vice president) who joined domestic National Guard units and got credit for some form of service without the stain of Vietnam on their nice clothing. A handful followed inner warrior-poet drives, and ended up drawing long from that experience — think Oliver Stone and John Kerry.

    But most significantly, about one hundred thousand of Americans left for Canada, breaking the law to avoid service. President Jimmy Carter issued an unconditional blanket pardon to all of those men on his first day in office as a controversial part of healing the divides in America following the Vietnam war. Alongside those hundred thousand men working today as gas station attendants and corporate CEOs, Trump, Biden, Cheney, and Clinton take their places. Indeed, in the end no Vietnam vet (with John McCain and John Kerry at the top of the list) has ever been elected president, and one who dodged the draft was. That’s what context looks like.

    Like hauling forward old yearbook photos from one era past to judge them in the New Light of 2019, Pete Buttigieg is very wrong to compare his service to anyone but his own peers. In that sense, let us remember Obama, Pence, Booker, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, and the rest chose not to volunteer.

    Meanwhile, 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard did two full tours in the Middle East, one inside Iraq. In 2004, Tulsi volunteered to become the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. One might better compare Tulsi, and Buttigieg, who had the option and chose to serve to others of their own post-Vietnam world like Obama, Booker, Harris, et al, who did not.

    And FWIW, I spent a full year in Iraq, stationed at two Forward Operating Bases.

    So if you wanna measure for size, Pete, the line forms right behind Tulsi…

     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump

    Who Said This? Fun Quiz!

    March 13, 2019 // 14 Comments »


     

    Fun quiz! Who said the following on TV this week? (The answer is below and will surprise you!)

    “Nature abhors a vacuum, and if we are not involved in international conflicts, or trying to quell international conflicts, certainly the Russians and the Chinese will fill that vacuum. And we will step away from the world stage in a significant way that might destabilize the world, because the United States, however flawed, is a force for good in the world in my opinion.”

    Answer: Stephen Colbert, who supposedly is a comedian with a silly late night show, but instead ends up reading neocon talking points to millenials.
     

    The ever-sharp Caitlan Johnstone has the whole story here; Colbert was in the process of tearing apart Tulsi Gabbard for daring oppose American interventions.

    The correct answer is reading what Gabbard said:

    “The United States should not be intervening to overthrow these dictators and these regimes that we don’t like, like Assad, like Saddam Hussein, like Gaddafi, and like Kim Jong Un. There are bad people in the world, but history has shown us that every time the United States goes in and topples these dictators we don’t like, trying to end up like the world’s police, we end up increasing the suffering of the people in these countries. We end up increasing the loss of life, but American lives and the lives of people in these countries. We end up undermining our own security, what to speak of the trillions of dollars of taxpayer money that’s spent on these wars that we need to be using right here at home.”

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump