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Military's officer corps: too political?

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In terms of political inclinations, military officers do not reflect the country as a whole. A year before the 2000 election, a survey by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies showed strong support for the GOP among officers. Of those surveyed, 64 percent identified with Republicans, 17 percent with Independents, and only 8 percent with Democrats.

One study shows absentee voting for the military (which started after the Vietnam War) helped lead career officers to think in more political terms. In a paper written while at the National War College, Army Col. Lance Betros concluded that "the officer corps' voting preference does not constitute partisan activity and is not, by itself, harmful to professionalism and civil-military relations." But Colonel Betros (who now teaches at West Point) also noted that such legendary military leaders as William Tecumseh Sherman and George Marshall stayed out of politics to the point where they didn't vote.

"They believed that meddling in politics, including voting in ... elections, eroded professionalism by weakening officers' military expertise and undermining their credibility in providing unbiased advice to civilian leaders," wrote Betros, who warned that the partisan trend could have "long-term harmful effects."

Today, however, it doesn't necessarily harm military careers. Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin told an evangelical group in Oregon last year that although Bush had lost the popular election in 2000, "He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this." General Boykin is now deputy to Stephen Cambone, under secretary of Defense for intelligence and one of the most influential advisers to Mr. Rumsfeld.

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