- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By William Treseder
Best Defense guest columnist
The Republican Party is steadily losing support within the military, its strongest and most steadfast constituent. The extremist elements within the GOP are driving away those who wear or have worn a uniform. Their brinksmanship, anti-government biases, and self-contradictory policies can no longer be hidden by rhetoric, as this shutdown makes clear.
Military disassociation with the GOP started during George W. Bush’s administration. Poor war-making decisions, unequal economic growth, and bumper sticker patriotism took their cumulative toll. The Tea Party’s emergence turned the trickle into a flood. A Military Times poll earlier this year showed a significant decrease in support for Republicans compared to 2006.
This does not indicate any substantial cultural or demographic shift, only the party’s unpopularity. Among those polled, the number considering themselves conservative barely changed, and there was no increase in those belonging to the Democratic Party. The trend is confined to decreasing enthusiasm for the GOP, accompanied by a modest rise in independents and libertarians.
Sequestration, the government shutdown, and the potential default will collectively drive the final nails in the Republican Party’s coffin. Quite simply, there is nothing attractive about their recent policies. They are harmful to our nation’s military and its families, the veteran community, and international security. And we haven’t yet begun to see the real effects.
Admiral Greenert, the chief of naval operations, touched on a few of the sequester’s consequences during a September speech in San Francisco. The numbers are staggering: Four of 10 new ballistic missile submarines won’t be built; three of 10 carrier strike groups will be split up; they will retire almost 30 ships they cannot afford to lose; there will be a dramatic increase in the percentage of the fleet deployed around the world. People build and maintain these ships. Sailors man them — and they will spend significantly less time at home with their families in coming years.
In Admiral Greenert’s words, "we are less of a credible threat" despite the Navy’s use of one-time funding to blunt sequester’s worst effects. This is not a one-sided issue, to be sure. Politicians from both parties contributed to the breakdown that led to the sequester. But much blame goes to the first- and second-term Tea Party representatives with their uncompromising tactics.
The same inflexibility led to the government shutdown. At a rally that I attended recently, 33 military and veterans organizations representing over 10 million Americans gathered at the World War II Memorial to call for an end to this federal freeze. One by one they listed off the costs, from non-payments for death benefits to suspension of VA claims processing. It all added up to one message: Faith has been broken with American fighting men and women, contrary to the promises etched in marble at that very site.
The next step is almost unthinkable. Should the nation default by failing to raise the debt ceiling, the United States will no longer be able to pay its servicemembers to defend us. It will not pay its veterans for the education, health, and housing benefits they’ve earned. It will not pay its debtors, from whom it borrowed based on our good name. This is contradictory to military values in every possible way.
It is clear that the extremists within the GOP are forcing this issue. A recent legislative change keeps anyone in the House from calling for a majority vote on reopening the government. There may be a reason for this last-minute change, but it’s hard to see it. The system is now rigged so that one man, subject to the pressure of an unlikely coalition of obscenely rich and poorly educated, can freeze the legislative process of the world’s superpower.
Congressional Republicans must overwhelm their suicidal fringe. If they cannot craft a solution for at least six months of funding, it will be the end of the party. The details are theirs to work out — but the judgment remains ours to dispense on election day.