- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

President Bush, in less than a month in office, has gained the respect and admiration of the military, a battle his predecessor lost even before he became commander in chief.

Where Mr. Bush made good on promised pay raises for soldiers, President Clinton gave the armed forces a battle over open homosexuals. Where the new president promises fewer deployments intended "just to keep warring parties apart," Mr. Clinton set a record for peacetime missions.

And where Mr. Bush, a former Texas National Guard pilot, snaps off a salute with the best of them, Mr. Clinton, who dodged the Vietnam draft, had to attend a remedial "saluting class."

"There's been a sea change at the top," one sailor said after Mr. Bush addressed Navy officials at Norfolk Naval Station on Tuesday. "A lot of us were disgusted with President Clinton for his sexual misconduct, his dodging the draft for Vietnam.

"President Bush, on the other hand, is one of us. And he's going to look out for us."

While none of the soldiers or sailors interviewed this week at military bases from Norfolk to Savannah, Ga., would speak on the record, several said they still loathed Mr. Clinton.

"Clinton was a dog. Bush is a dog-faced soldier," one sergeant in the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said when the president visited Fort Stewart, Ga., on Monday.

In his speech there, Mr. Bush belted out a hearty "Hooah," an Army salute, to a throng of camouflage-clad soldiers who referred to themselves as "dog-faced soldiers." The troops bellowed back their own barracks-shaking "Hooah."

Other overt signs have emerged that the men and women of today's military share a deeper bond with their new commander in chief.

When naval officers in Norfolk bestowed upon the former pilot a general purpose aviator's jacket noting that it came complete with Air Force wings a sailor shouted over the loud applause "He earned it."

Tracked down afterward, the staff sergeant said he just couldn't help himself.

"I was just so sick and tired of the way Clinton treated the military, and so damn happy about the way Bush is treating us," he said. "And I know I speak for a lot of others when I say, 'It's about time.' "

Mr. Clinton's stint as commander in chief went bad even before he was elected in 1992.

During the presidential campaign, reports emerged that he had participated in anti-war protests while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England and obtained deferments to avoid being drafted for Vietnam, "a war," he said, "I opposed and despised with a depth of feeling I had reserved solely for racism in America."

As the scandal blew up around him, Mr. Clinton tried various explanations, first saying he planned to join the Reserve Officers Training Corps but didn't, then claiming the Vietnam-era draft system "plainly favored" well-educated young men "who had options that they could use that others didn't."

"He doesn't know us, doesn't know the first thing about us," one Marine said at the Norfolk ceremony. "You don't necessarily have to be in the Marines to be a good commander in chief, but it helps if you don't hate our guts."

The draft scandal, as others during his term often did, dissipated. But at the outset of his presidency, Mr. Clinton became embroiled in the issue of homosexuals in the military. His "don't ask, don't tell" policy that eventually emerged was looked upon as inadequate from both sides.

Other reasons mentioned by soldiers and sailors for mistrusting Mr. Clinton were the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which led to his impeachment, and a last-day-in-office admission that he had lied under oath.

"You think it was a coincidence that we're bombing places on the day he's going to be impeached?" one Army officer said.

On Dec. 16, 1998, the day before the full House was due to start debate on impeachment, Mr. Clinton ordered a U.S. missile attack on Iraq. Several prominent Republicans publicly suggested the attack was a last-ditch effort to delay the impeachment debate.

Mr. Clinton went so far as to say his role as commander in chief meant he was on "active duty," invoking a 1940 clause intended to shield active military personnel from civil litigation in his case, a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Arkansas employee Paula Jones.

Five recipients of the Medal of Honor the highest U.S. military decoration awarded to soldiers for gallantry in action took out full-page newspaper ads to deplore the action.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, has proposed increasing the flagging military budget by $15 billion beginning Oct. 1 for pay raises, increased health benefits and improved housing. Over the last three days, he visited Army troops, Navy officers and reservists, promising to each that he would deliver on his campaign promises.

He is beloved by members of the armed forces not so much for what he has done unproved accusations early in the presidential campaign claimed he had pulled strings to get into the Texas National Guard but for his father's military successes.

The elder Mr. Bush, who celebrated his 75th birthday by parachuting from 12,500 feet over his presidential library in Texas, was wildly applauded by the Navy officers when his son mentioned his name.

Like his father, Mr. Bush does not believe the military should be sent to mediate foreign disputes.

"I'm worried that we are trying to be all things to all people around the world," Mr. Bush said yesterday at the West Virginia National Guard in Charleston. "The mission of the United States military [is] to be trained and prepared to fight and win war, and therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place."

From 1950 to 1989, the 3rd Infantry Division was deployed 10 times on missions ranging from all-out wars to humanitarian operations. During Mr. Clinton's term, members of the division were deployed 30 times, often on peacekeeping and disaster-relief missions, according to the U.S. Army.

"We have to define what we're doing," said one 3rd Infantry Division soldier, who will deploy soon to Kosovo to continue a peacekeeping mission. "We were all over the place before, but now, finally, I think we're going to have a little discipline."

As for the salute, Mr. Clinton had trouble from the beginning of his term.

"He seemed to be working out his internal conflicts every time he tentatively raised his hand," former White House strategist George Stephanopoulos wrote in his book "All Too Human: A Political Education." "The tips of his fingers would furtively touch his slightly bowed head, as if he were being caught at something he wasn't supposed to do."

National Security Adviser Anthony Lake was sent to confer with Mr. Clinton about his salute, and it "grew crisper," he wrote.

Soldiers said Mr. Bush has the right salute, whipping his hand up so quickly that photographers often complain that they missed the picture.

"Now that's a salute," a 3rd Infantry Division sergeant said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide