IRAQ: U.S. troops weigh in on Obama versus McCain
Few Americans stand to be as directly affected by the presidential race as the military forces deployed to Iraq, and while the military generally frowns on troops discussing politics publicly, it was impossible to avoid the topic early today as troops in Baghdad awoke to the news that Barack Obama had won handily over John McCain.
The military is a traditionally conservative organization. A recent poll by the Military Times in the run-up to the vote indicated strong support for McCain over Obama, but more research by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions of $200 and up, found that most of the money coming from men and women in uniform was going to Democrats, not Republicans.
Whom to believe? We decided to ask the troops themselves, who seemed more than happy to talk politics, both in e-mail exchanges and while eating breakfast early today at the War Eagle base in northeastern Baghdad shortly after Obama was declared the winner. Here are some of their thoughts:
Staff Sgt. Samuel Smith:
"I'm happy about it. American needs to see a change. Change isn't a bad thing," said Smith, who voted for President Bush in 2004. "I want to see someone different, to see if we can change the path of the United States."
Spc. Joao Jones:
"He's something different. Give him a chance," Jones said of Obama. Jones wasn't able to vote -- the Honduran native is still awaiting his U.S. citizenship. But he'd have voted for Obama. "I'd tell him the war has been going on so long, it's time to change."
Staff Sgt. Tracie Ward:
"For soldiers, we're worried about how the war is being fought," said Ward. She would not say whom she voted for, but acknowledged that troops would choose according to their personal concerns about the situation in Iraq and how it affects them. "If this individual is elected, how is that going to impact the misson here? As a citizen, you have to go with what direction you want to see the country go in. We're here because the American people wanted us here. They tell what they want through their votes."
Spc. Marie Anisca-Oral:
"The big issues for me were the economy and Iraq, and someone had to clean up ... the mess we're in. I think it's obvious we have a big mess," said Anisca-Oral, who favored Obama but worries about his ability to satisfy the demands of Americans wanting big change. "There's no way he'll be able to put the country on a good track in just four years."
Staff Sgt. L. Bennett:
"I think it's going to be a great change. It's going to be really difficult for him (Obama), but hopefully he won't fall into the same category as the previous one," she said, referring to Bush's growing unpopularity near the end of his term.
Cpt. Steven McGregor:
"Well, I'm a conservative. I voted for McCain/Palin. The biggest issue I considered this election was the global counterinsurgency America is fighting against terrorist Islamic groups," said McGregor, who disliked Obama's plan to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq. "I think [John] McCain is best qualified to act as commander in chief during this challenge. ... Obama is obsessed with an exit strategy and a timeline, which I think is a fundamentally flawed approach to Iraq and our conflicts elsewhere. McCain supported the unpopular surge, which I believe demonstrated his commitment."
Maj. Olaf Shibusawa:
"I voted for John McCain because of his understanding of the Iraq war, even though I think an Obama office would mean less deployments and time away from home. While I had my doubts on the surge, I did support it because I felt it was our last chance ... and in the end, I think it was a success. The question for me is if it is sustainable. John McCain has a much better idea of what the current situation is, and what the consequences are if we leave too fast and too soon."
1st Lt. James Talbott:
"I voted Democratic. Part of it was McCain's health, and the idea of Sarah Palin becoming president. I did like the McCain I saw in 2000. He was his own person. But in this election, he kind of towed the party line a little more. He was saying, 'Vote for me and you can get change,' but if you're voting Republican, how much can it really change?" Talbott added: "I think the most impressive thing to me is, even if Barack Obama does not turn out to be the messiah-like president everyone expects, after 200 years we've broken down one final barrier."
Maj. Ian Howard:
"I'm pleased with the outcome. I've been a Republican most of my life," said Howard, who believes Obama is a better candidate to tackle sticky international issues such as relations with Iran and Iraq's sovereignty. "This is the first time I felt like we really needed a change. I don't want to come back here for another tour. He [Obama] leans more toward 'once we're done, let's go home.' I think McCain has more of that war mentality, like 'we're gonna stay as long as it takes.' I think the way things have gone here lately, it's time to take the training wheels off. He [Obama] gives me confidence I won't be back."
--Tina Susman in Baghdad
Photo: Signs of patriotism at War Eagle, an Army base in eastern Baghdad. Credit: Tina Susman l Los Angeles Times
P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.