Should Military Veterans Endorse Presidential Candidates?

By Mulrine, Anna | The Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Should Military Veterans Endorse Presidential Candidates?


Mulrine, Anna, The Christian Science Monitor


Should US military veterans endorse presidential candidates and what are the dangers to democracy if they do?

That is the question behind a provocative new study from an influential Washington think tank.

True, retired veterans are private citizens. But there is a fine line between vets voicing private concerns and doing so in a way that makes it appear that theyre speaking on behalf of the institution of the US military, says Maj. James Golby, an instructor of politics at the US Military Academy at West Point.

The main issue is respecting the moral authority that has been bestowed on people who have served in the military to guard the trust the public has placed in them, adds Golby, lead author in the new study entitled, Military Campaigns: Veterans Endorsements and Presidential Elections, from the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

The problem is that very few American voters make the distinction between retired military personnel and those on active duty, notes the study, which was also written by Kyle Dropp and Peter Feaver. Active-duty personnel are not allowed to wear uniforms at political events and make political speeches.

The campaigns, in turn, are aware of this and tend to recruit the highest-ranking retirees they can find to support candidates, particularly flag officers admirals and generals.

Retired senior officers may think they are drawing fine distinctions between the formal institution of active-duty military and their own views as retired citizens, but the truth is that no one, especially not the campaigns, is very interested in their views as private citizens, the study says.

While the report finds that these endorsements do not appear to notably sway voters, the problem is that over time these endorsements have the potential to erode trust in the military.

What's more, the topic is particularly relevant during a presidential election in which, for the first time in American history, neither of the candidates has served in the military.

Endorsements by retired military officers can diminish the perception of the military as a nonpartisan institution serving the nation and increase the perception of the military as just another interest group serving its own bureaucratic and political interests, the authors warn.

Because of this, endorsements from retired military officers particularly the high-ranking ones could be seen as coming with a thinly veiled threat about what could happen if the nonpreferred candidate wins. …

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