The Warthog, a soldier’s best friend; Obama, not so much

Why is President Bush so much more popular than President Obama among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans? That’s an easy one. Bush was the president of let’s roll. Obama is the president of let’s retreat.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans subscribed to the motto that America’s colors “don’t run.” Under Obama, however, they have.

There must also be a sense that Bush had a closer personal connection than Obama with those who put their lives on the line for our country. Bush made a special point of comforting the families of soldiers who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to frequent visits to Walter Reed Hospital and to families of the fallen, he sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice.

Obama, of course, sends letters of condolence to families of the fallen. But controversy has surrounded them. And recently, he turned up at a glitzy fundraiser shortly after attending services for slain troops at Fort Hood. However one views this, it’s difficult to picture George W. Bush conducting himself that way.

Then, there is Obama’s slashing of the military budget. It’s doubtful that our former warriors appreciate seeing that budget cut to pre-World War II levels.

Under Obama, Democrats seek military votes by talking about veterans affairs, rather than about maintaining a strong military. Veteran affairs are important, of course. Yet, as tough as things have been for many veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, they don’t seem receptive to John Kerry’s view that they are primarily victims.

Specific budgetary cuts also suggest a lack of regard for those who do our fighting. The Obama Pentagon proposes to do away with the A-10 Thunderbolt, also known, thanks to its appearance, as the Warthog.

This is a unique flying fighting machine. Protected by armor, it flies into combat zones at an altitude low enough for pilots to distinguish friend from foe. Foes become the target of a 30mm cannon that protrudes from front of the aircraft. Says one retired Air Force pilot, “we can kill everything on the battlefield; the full spectrum — tanks to troops.”

Developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s when helicopters were routinely being shot down in Vietnam, the A-10 has saved the lives of U.S. troops in war after war. In the first Persian Gulf War, it took out much of Iraq’s tanks, artillery, and missile sites. In Afghanistan it saved 90 coalition troops who were on the verge of being overrun by the Taliban. For this, the pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor.

Not surprisingly, troops love the Warthog. So does the brass. Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls it “the ugliest, most beautiful aircraft on the planet.” Gen. John Campbell, the Army’s vice chief of staff, calls it a “game-changer.”

The Air Force defends its decision to do away with the A-10 on the grounds that, with the defense cuts that have been ordered, they have no real choice. That sounds implausible.

But it seems clear, given affection for the aircraft even among top brass, that if Obama’s cuts were less severe, “the best close-air support platform we have” (to quote Sen. Kelly Ayotte whose husband was an A-10 pilot) would not be on its way out.

It also seems clear that military veterans have good reason to wish that America had a different commander-in chief.

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