So, as the Presidential candidates for 2008 wage a campaign in their name—Republicans support the troops in Iraq by supporting their mission; Democrats support them by trying to bring them home—what do the soldiers themselves think?
“Most soldiers couldn’t care less about politics,” said Ross Cohen, a fast-talking former paratrooper, in a panel discussion last week about a book-turned-documentary called Operation Homecoming at the Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby Street in downtown Manhattan.
“When the Baker-Hamilton report came out,” he said, “I e-mailed a friend of mine, a sergeant in Iraq, and I asked him, ‘Have you heard about it? What’s the deal?’ And his response was: ‘I don’t know who the fuck that is. Can you e-mail me faster?’”
Mr. Cohen, who served with the Army in eastern Afghanistan from October 2003 to August 2004, thinks there’s an easy explanation for that indifference, even with so much at stake.
“There’s an air of disgust when people lecture them, when they themselves are not willing to put their own lives on the line or at risk,” he said. “If they want their military to care about their opinion, then they have to serve.”
As if making up for lost time, Mr. Cohen, nearly three years out of Iraq, is now immersing himself in politics. (He said he was “obsessed.”)
He is about to join the policy and research staff of Governor Bill Richardson’s Presidential campaign, after graduating from Princeton with a master’s degree in public affairs.
Asked about the disconnect between the 2008 candidates and the soldiers in Iraq, Mr. Cohen grabbed the microphone and leaned towards his questioner.
“There’s certainly more Republicans, and there is a very visceral anti-Hillary bias in the military,” he said. “I feel like McCain was rising because of the war experience, his war perspective, although that may be not the case now. But otherwise, they don’t care. Soldiers are much more into MySpace and MTV.”
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