Why a Veterans Group Doesn't Endorse All Veterans

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, gestures after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Dardanelle, Ark., Tuesday, A
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, gestures after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Dardanelle, Ark., Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

A lot of people ask me why the veterans group I head, VoteVets.org, only endorses some veterans running for office, and not all of them. In fact, just yesterday, National Journal posted an article that highlights the fact that there are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans running for Senate, who VoteVets will not support. Some people get surprised by this. After all, aren't all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on the same side of every issue? Not particularly.

Congressman Tom Cotton best illustrates this. After going to Harvard for undergrad and law school, Congressman Cotton served in the Army in the Iraq War. In that sense, he is a lot like many of the veterans we have endorsed for office.

From Congressman Cotton's opposition to women being allowed to serve in combat units, to supporting a proposal to cut Social Security and veterans pension payments through a chained Consumer Price Index, there are a good number of reasons VoteVets hasn't endorsed the Congressman. But, most recently, looking at the crisis in the Ukraine, it becomes clearer that Congressman Cotton has taken positions that aren't good for American security, or for those troops with whom he used to serve.

It is now evident that pro-Russian separatists were given heavy weaponry from Russia, and, possibly with Russian help, used that weaponry in mistakenly shooting down a civilian Malaysian airliner. No one disputes that Russia didn't want to see those innocent people killed. But it is a textbook example of how giving weaponry and training to insurgent groups can have severe consequences.

Yet, Congressman Cotton continues to advocate sending weaponry to Syrian rebels, fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On the surface, it once seemed like that was a sensible position. Assad is a brutal dictator, and people are trying to fight back, so we should support them, the argument from Congressman Cotton went.

And so President Obama sent small arms to those rebels, with the support of Congressman Cotton. Now, we're seeing what many of these rebels have chosen to do with our weaponry, because we failed to consider who they were, and what might be done with those arms, besides fight Assad.

Those rebels included many of the insurgents who killed American troops in Iraq, and extremists like the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), who, in their quest to set up an Islamic Caliphate, became too extreme for al-Qaeda. They have used our weaponry in their campaign to slaughter Iraqis, retake areas that American troops had long-ago cleared out -- areas like Mosul, which I was in, in 2011, toward the end of the war. With our munitions, they've threatened to topple the Iraqi government our troops died trying to help set up.

In originally backing arms for Syrian rebels, Congressman Cotton told Meet the Press that a major reason for doing so would be so refugees from Syria didn't destabilize our allies like Jordan. Now, having seen how it was Iraq that was destabilized because of his position, you would think Congressman Cotton would admit his huge mistake, and call for a cessation of aid to Syrian rebels. Congressman Cotton's opponent, Senator Mark Pryor, did recently, when he proposed an amendment to ban funding to allow President Obama to continue sending arms to the rebels (an amendment that Senator John Boozman supported, and VoteVets supports).

Of course, America doesn't want to help the Islamic State achieve its goals, nor, I'm sure, does Congressman Cotton. But, Ron Paul answered this best, in an interview with the conservative website Newsmax.

He was asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin was complicit in the downed airliner, because Russian weaponry was used. Paul said, "That may well be true, but guess what? ISIS has a lot of American weapons. We send weapons into Syria to help the rebels and if al Qaeda ends up getting it, it doesn't mean our American government and Obama deliberately wanted ISIS to get American weapons."

As American forces are engaged in a war against terrorism, and likely will be for a long time, it simply makes no sense to arm those who could very likely use those arms against us and our allies. What we have already seen in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg. As we've seen in the Ukraine, the unintended consequences could be so much worse.

Congressman Cotton deserves nothing but respect for his service to our nation, and we all need to honor him for that. But, as long as he backs policies that needlessly put America and American troops at risk, he doesn't necessarily deserve the votes of Arkansans who are concerned about our national security and safety of our military.

Similarly, veteran Joni Ernst (running for Tom Harkin's open seat in the Senate) has refused to stand up to Big Oil, which only benefits our enemies overseas. In fact, she was feted at a fundraiser hosted by ExxonMobil. And, veteran Dan Sullivan, running against Senator Mark Begich, in Alaska, pushed policies that shut out the voice of veterans in important debates.

And so, VoteVets cannot, in good conscience, endorse all the veterans running for political office. Not when they work against American security and the veterans community.

We veterans will always be bound together by a very special bond. That will never be broken. But that doesn't mean we have to all endorse the positions or candidacy of every veteran, just because they are a veteran.