McCain Rally Features On-Duty Soldiers
Several uniformed troops spoke at a John McCain “No Surrender Tour” rally in apparent violation of military regulations.
Seven on-duty Army personnel participated in a campaign event for Senator John McCain earlier this month in Londonderry, N.H., in an apparent violation of a Pentagon directive against partisan political activity, two military officials confirmed this week. The Sept. 14 rally at an American Legion hall was part of McCain’s “No Surrender” tour of early-primary states, a martial pageant designed to draw attention to the Arizona Republican’s continued support for the war in Iraq.
Seven personnel from a Manchester, N.H., recruiting station appeared in uniform and briefly addressed the crowd.
A Department of Defense directive signed in August 2004 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz prohibits on-duty members of the armed forces from “speak[ing] before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.” In addition, on-duty military personnel are forbidden from attending any political event in uniform except the national party conventions.
Under the headline “Politicizing The Military,” Andrew Sullivan calls this, “A black eye for the McCain campaign.” That’s a little harsh, I think.
In a brief interview after the event, Sergeant First Class Chad Kozdra, the commanding officer at the recruiting station [Editor’s note: It’s highly unlikely that a senior NCO is the CO; there’s almost surely a captain in charge.], said he had been approached days earlier about participating in the event by the McCain campaign. He said he supported McCain and had done so in 2000. “What they were told is that this was a support-the-troops barbecue,” not a campaign appearance, said Paul Boyce, a US Army public affairs officer.
“They weren’t there to support a political campaign,” said McCain spokeswoman Crystal Benton. “We don’t believe anyone intended an infraction of DoD policy. Nor do we believe soldiers should be prevented from showing their support for fellow soldiers.”
Now, I agree that this is obviously a campaign event and that uniformed soldiers shouldn’t have been involved. Sully’s right that using soldiers as props in political campaigns is a bad idea. Wolfowitz’ dictat was merely a clarification of longstanding policy and a good one.
At the same time, it’s understandable that the troops and McCain would have thought it permissible to have soldiers at a “support-the-troops barbecue” advocating victory in an ongoing war. The name given to the event and its message made it seem something other than a “partisan political event,” for which there’s a bright line.