As the GOP’s 2016 cast of men who would be president grows, so too do its ranks of chicken hawks—candidates who have never served in the military but are eager send American men and women into wars overseas. While it’s no surprise that these Republicans are feeding off each other in a feedback loop of one-upmanship, this latest round of boasting is not occurring in a vacuum. The U.S., as the world's largest military force, faces many major challenges in the coming years —not just ISIS in the Middle East, but also China enlarging its maritime borders.
What follows are profiles of five candidates who are chicken hawks. None have served in the military but they all - unlike Obama - are willing to deploy ground troops overseas to fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Other Republicans running similarly have puffed out their warmongering chests, such as Scott Walker saying that he would take on ISIS like he bullied Wisconsin’s public employee unions and Jeb Bush endorsing W’s invasion of Iraq. Lindsey Graham also is calling for 10,000 ground troops, but he served in the military. These five haven’t:
1. Marco Rubio
On CNN’s The Lead last September, Rubio made it clear ground troops would “likely be needed” to “finish the job” on ISIS. He said, "The chances of local forces alone being able to defeat ISIL, or any group for that matter on the ground is dubious at best… It's important for the President to be honest with the American people that at some point in the future, this might require some element of U.S. ground power in order to finish the job."
The Florida Senator quickly earned the respect of the hawkish wing of the foreign policy establishment, especially the neocons that got us into Iraq for spouting the right bellicose talking points. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to know that Iran - despite being a favorite punching bag of this same neocon set - is a mortal enemy of ISIS, not in alliance with it. As Think Progress noted:
Speaking before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland, Rubio told radio and TV host Sean Hannity that “if we wanted to defeat [ISIS] militarily,we could do it. [Obama] doesn’t want to upset Iran…”
There’s just one problem: Iran has been fighting ISIS just like the United States and has publicly urged America to take a larger role in the operation. Obama has even sent a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggesting anti-ISIS cooperation.
What’s scary is that for many foreign policy experts, he’s considered the intelligent one in Republican circles. Meanwhile, what he did during his Military age years (18-35)? Like the others on this list, Rubio spent his military-age years, well, running for President. He attended law school, interned for Florida U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, worked on the Dole-Kemp campaign and eventually got elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, and rose to become Speaker of the Florida House.
The wars Rubio decided not to fight in include: Gulf War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, War in Afghanistan and Iraq War. The American troops killed in those conflicts totaled 7,041.
2. Rick Santorum
The former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator, Christian evangelical, and winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses wants to send the troops back to Iraq: Santorum is straddling the fence between the GOP’s “small government” Tea Party and the “Muslims are coming for us all” tension at the heart of the current GOP foreign policy orthodoxy. He’s called for Obama to “double” the amount of “advisers” to Iraq to look tough without offending libertarians who are weary of war. According to Bloomberg News:
Santorum, speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, said he’s “not talking about a massive invasion force” just about doubling the 3,000 now on the ground in Iraq. “I’m not talking about front line troops here,” he said. “If we don’t start winning the war against ISIS my fear is we are going to see casualties here in the United States.”
So 3,000 more “advisors”, to Santorum, is the existential difference between attacks on the homeland and containing the enemy overseas. Santorum also believes that the U.S. should use more military muscle in the Ukraine to push back Russia.
During his military-service age years, he also focused on building a career as a lawyer and politician, skipping the Gulf War.
3. Ted Cruz
Texas Senator Ted Cruz is trying to thread the same needle as Santorum. He’s a Tea Party favorite, where 86% think ISIS can launch a “major attack” on U.S. soil. His solution: set the table for ground troops in Iraq and Syria “if need be” to “accomplish the mission.” He told ABC News:
"The mission should be defeating ISIS before they succeed in carrying out more horrific acts of terror, before they succeed in murdering Americans. If need be, we should go that step," Cruz told "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos when asked whether U.S. troops on the ground should be considered.
When Cruz was of enlistment age, he groomed himself to be an anti-elitist “small government” conservative by attending Ivy league schools where he was a debate champion and then ladder-climbing in the GOP establishment, first clerking at the U.S. Supreme Court and then returning to Texas to work as a special prosecutor. Cruz could have honed his military credential in the Gulf War, Bosnian War, Kosovo War, War in Afghanistan and Iraq War. Instead, his chosen weapon is a verbal barb.
4. Chris Christie
Like Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been ingratiating himself with the more traditional, neoconservative wing of the party, recently calling for an expansion of the military and a defense of bulk data collection by spy agencies. In April, he told the Military Times that he would take it one step further, rejecting the Obama White House’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran and opening up the door for more ground troops in Iraq:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Wednesday the emerging nuclear pact with Iran will lead to it having nuclear weapons and to an even more dangerous Middle East. He also said he'd be open to putting U.S. soldiers "into the fight" against the Islamic State group if necessary.
Military service also was the last thing on Christie’s mind in his military age years. He worked for corporate law firm Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci and launched his political career as the state coordinator for George H. W. Bush’s 1992 campaign. After returning to corporate lobbying, he was appointed by then-president George W. Bush (where he also worked) as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. He skipped the Gulf War and the Bosnian War.
5. George Pataki
“Who?” you may be asking, about the most recent entry into the GOP’s 2016 field. Former New York State Gov. George Pataki left professional politics in 2006 - the same year our current President was elected to the Senate. None the less, he’s running for President, has some old-school Rockefeller Republican support, and wants to send our largely poor military class to fight ISIS. Pataki told CNN last month:
"But send in troops, destroy their training centers, destroy their recruitment centers, destroy the area where they are looking to plan to attack us here and then get out."
The fight against ISIS “is our war,” Pataki said, brushing off Americans may be wary of sending troops back into combat. He’s also tried to distance himself from the congressional Republicans who sent a letter to Iran dismissing Obama’s nuclear negotiations, telling AM 970 New York he “probably wouldn’t have sent” the infamous letter to Iran. In other words, the “sensible” guy in the race is just calling for deploying troops in Iraq.
Pataki is older than these other chicken hawks and could have served in Vietnam. He entered Yale the same year as George W. Bush, where he led the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union. He later got his law degree from Columbia and went to work as corporate lawyer, where he made connections that helped him launch his political career as mayors of Peekskill, NY.
Would-Be Warriors Who Don’t Know War
The outbreak of chicken hawks among our political class is a recurring trend that has only gotten worse. The more those sending our largely poor classes off to war have little first hand experience in what they are being asked to do, the greater the likelihood of tragic mistakes. While military service doesn’t, of course, make one more dovish - the perpetually belligerent John McCain disproves this assumption - it perhaps gives some pause. Some perspective. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t entirely divorce the consequences of war from those who level it.
As a 2013 pew survey noted,“Not all that long ago, military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress. The high point in recent decades was the 95th Congress (1977-78) when, following an influx of Vietnam-era veterans, a combined 77% of the House and Senate had served in the armed forces. But as World War II veterans have retired and relatively few Americans enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces, veterans account for a smaller and smaller share of Congress.” The current total? 20%.
And so it goes for our current lot of candidates. Perhaps having more combat veterans in our pool wouldn’t make them less likely to go to war, but it would almost certainly make them less breezy about sending yet another generation of young men and women to Iraq to fight for a war whose objective remains uncertain and whose timetable remains seemingly indefinite.