This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 16 September 2011.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recently spoke at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in San Antonio, Texas. As Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the presidential race, Perry immediately began touting his Air Force service and among his first comments was a promise to be a president the troops could respect.
Months before, both Romney and Perry snubbed the VFW’s invitation. Speaking at VFW suddenly became much more interesting to Romney.
Romney's speech was touted as showing a more aggressive candidate. A reference he made in the speech to “career politicians” was seen as a dig at Perry. Most of the speech was taking jabs at President Barack Obama on jobs, government debt, and proposed defense cuts. He minimized the killing of Osama bin Laden, criticized Obama’s “apologetic” speeches, the Afghanistan withdrawal plan, the “muddle” in Libya, and his handling of Syria. Sprinkled between were anecdotes about his admiration for veterans, about visiting wounded troops, and receiving the casket of a soldier at the airport.
As a veteran and member of the VFW, among other vets groups, I cannot help but feel patronized by both candidates' comments.
Perry’s remark about being a commander-in-chief our troops can respect fits into the stereotypical mold of soldiers as swaggering fist-shakers. This is no surprise from Perry who is a swaggering fist-shaker himself. The way to earn the troops’ respect is through good policy decisions that don’t put them in harm’s way unnecessarily or at least not incompetently, as the last swaggering Texas president did. This isn’t 2004.
Romney never served in the military and the best he could offer was opposition to his own party’s proposed defense cuts, as well as promises to modernize military equipment and veterans’ benefits and use his business experience to cut waste in procurement. He greatly admires those who serve, but never enough to sign up. This fact can be overlooked if it is followed up with good policy. Romney’s speech was thick on praise and strong rhetoric, but thin on policy.
Obama did not serve in the military either and his relationship with military leaders has been a bit rocky, as the exits of Gen. Jim Jones and Gen. Stanley McChrystal show. However, he has presided over much military success. He has authorized more drone strikes in the last three years against terrorist targets than in President George W. Bush’s eight years in office. Al-Qaeda is weaker than ever. He has executed a relatively calm major drawdown of troops in Iraq and is beginning another in Afghanistan. He has succeeded in legitimately affecting regime change in Libya with international support and without boots on the ground. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is beginning to show signs of cracking as well. And, above all, he got Osama bin Laden.
Our defense policy requires more than just Perry’s re-used rhetoric from the Bush years or Romney’s business eye for the bottom line. It requires good, smart policy that is not going to put our troops into combat without necessity. For Obama, the proof is in the pudding. I can respect that.