Rippee ’16.5: For veterans, this election offers no easy answer

Op-Ed Columnist
Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In what may ultimately be considered the most infamous presidential election in U.S. history, the choice between two deeply flawed candidates has every voter compromising to some degree. But for the millions of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the choice between the two major party candidates is especially difficult.

Veterans, as a voting demographic, tend to skew right. A poll by Fox News found that veterans favor Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by 14 points, a relatively small margin compared to previous elections in which Republican candidates enjoyed even larger leads among veterans and active-duty service member voters. But for those veterans feeling disillusioned or disgusted by Trump’s antics, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign offers no refuge from the coming storm Nov. 8.

The reasons for that are many, ranging from Clinton’s mishandling of classified material to her failure to allocate additional security in Benghazi, Libya as secretary of state. And while those transgressions are major cause for concern among veterans, perhaps the most significant source of distrust is her history of hawkish military intervention.

The Iraq War is one of the nation’s worst foreign policy disasters, resulting in the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. service members and offering virtually nothing to show for it but continued instability and fighting. Clinton voted for the war and subsequently pressured to keep more troops there during her time as secretary of state. She has gone on to admit that it was a mistake to vote in favor of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but for those whose lives have been invariably changed by the conflict, the admission offers little solace. If anything should disqualify a candidate from serving in the nation’s highest office, it should be committing a ‘mistake’ that cost the lives of thousands.

I watched a friend die in Iraq in 2009, shot an arm’s length away from me. When I think about that day now, I can’t help but wonder what we were even doing there. And every day that the fighting continues in Mosul, Iraq, that question echoes louder and louder in my mind. An apology shouldn’t suffice. Not for me, and not for the thousands of Iraq War veterans suffering through unacceptable wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals — a problem Clinton dismissed the severity of on national TV.

It would be one thing if Clinton showed any evidence to support that she’s truly learned from her role in the Iraq War, but in fact the opposite appears to be true. In the years since the Iraq War, she’s led the charge on the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi, leading to a failed Libyan state, and she seems committed to more aggressive intervention in Syria, a nation already drowning in human suffering.

If taking a principled stance against Trump is required of Americans — and it assuredly is — then an equally principled stance against Clinton should be required as well. But that really doesn’t leave many options. Third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein come to mind, but the notion of electing an unknown to the highest office in the land is difficult to come to terms with.

Most of the anti-Trump movement is willing to forgive Clinton for her foreign policy history, alleging that a vote for anyone but her is a de facto vote for Trump. I fail to see the validity of such moral appeals, given that most of the people making them have never seen a dead Iraqi child, killed for the crime of being born under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

If this election were held in a vacuum, voting for Clinton would be an easy choice. But the ramifications of this election will be felt everywhere, and my aim is to prevent my vote from contributing to the further destruction of Mosul, or Tripoli, Libya or Aleppo, Syria. Accepting the anti-Trump framework doesn’t leave me with a suitable option for accomplishing that goal.

Those urging us to consider Clinton a necessary alternative to Trump fail to recognize the gravity of her voting history, but those who fought in Iraq live with the burden of her choices everyday. Republicans still have the support of most veterans, but given how unfit their candidate is, perhaps the margin they enjoy is merely a function of how much experience veterans already have with some of Clinton’s previous leadership.

It remains clear that President Trump would be a disaster for our nation, but for many veterans, voting for Clinton would be an awfully tough pill to swallow as well.

Bryan Rippee ’16.5 can be reached at bryan_rippee@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion at letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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