Nearly all the postmortems about Donald Trump’s victory have left out one significant factor: the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, including its impact on the American men and women who served there. A long, otherwise valuable article in The New Yorker about the reasons for Trump’s support only had one single solitary sentence about the Iraq War.
A survey before the election showed that Trump was leading Hillary Clinton by 19 points among veterans who were registered to vote. What is striking is that Trump’s popularity among vets was not shaken at all by his belief that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and that he had opposed it from the start. The pundits held their breath after he spoke out against the war and attacked George W. Bush during the primary campaign in South Carolina, a state with so many military installations it is in danger of sinking into the Atlantic. He still won that state easily — and veterans continued to rally to him.
The mainstream media nit-picked over when Trump had actually come out against the 2003 invasion, without sufficiently noting that Senator Clinton had voted for the war and then spent years running away from any discussion of it. Although some are labeling Trump voters as proto-fascists and warmongers, let us remember there was no groundswell of spontaneous support from Middle America to invade Iraq. Americans in the Rust Belt, as elsewhere, wanted to defend our country against recurrences of the September 11 attacks, but what I would call the plot to misdirect that fear toward Saddam Hussein was hatched in Washington, D.C., not Youngstown, Ohio, or rural Wisconsin.
One young ex-Marine lieutenant who served in Iraq in 2004 and who I am fortunate enough to count as a friend told me recently, “We went to war believing to our very core that we were defending our country and keeping our loved ones safe.”
This former Marine continued:
To come home and hear about the problems with the Veterans Administration and our fellow veterans committing suicide while waiting for an appointment just compounded the problem. The U.S. military is more often being used as a tool of our foreign policy with less and less of our elected leaders having ever served in uniform.”
Unfortunately, our country is so divided that someone like me, who no longer lives in a place where many volunteer for the military, is too out of touch, which is why I partly missed the pro-Trump surge. There are 22 million vets in America, and although of course not all of them served in the Middle East, the ones who did all have families and friends. My ex-Marine friend summed up:
I don’t think anyone knows what President-elect Trump is going to do to fix the VA but I can see why veterans have faith that he will. . . I guess there is a parallel between vets and the blue-collar workers who voted for Trump. Can he really bring manufacturing back to America? Time will tell, but the workers in the Rust Belt felt Trump would be their representative in Washington because no one else has been.