Even though most Americans have overwhelmingly given the president a thumbs up for exiting the conflict—a CBS News poll showed 77% agree with his actions—Obama has been hit with a barrage of political bombs from GOP leaders. His Republican presidential opponent, Arizona Senator John McCain characterized his decision of a complete troop pullout as being politically-charged—an act of “scorn and disdain.” In an October CNN report, McCain said the withdrawal worked to the advantage of neighboring Iran. “We’re leaving Iraq completely, which is the No. 1 priority of the Iranian[s],” he asserted. “We are taking unnecessary risks in Afghanistan by withdrawing troops there, and I can tell you from traveling the world, that in the world they believe the United States is withdrawing and is weakening.”
Not surprisingly, all of the Republican presidential contenders—except Texas Congressman Ron Paul—claim that the president was reckless and troops need to to secure “a fragile peace.” As usual, Mitt Romney, the No. 2 contender for the Republican nomination, flip-flopped, citing the need for as many as “20,000 to 30,000 troops” to avoid “failure” and to “wind down” American involvement. As the presidential contest heats up expect the GOP to use the troop pullout among the issues to stop Obama at all costs. Republicans will try to rally their conservative base by positioning Obama as a commander-in-chief with poor judgment while, at the same time, attacking him on the economic front.
What is remarkable about the end of the Iraq War has been its muted tone. Although the conflict has been extremely unpopular with the public, the troops’ homecoming have been absent of any ticker tape-style recognition of the resolve and sacrifice of so many—other than military ceremonies. We all must acknowledge, however, the financial and employment challenges returning G.I.s face on the homefront. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans stands at a staggering 12.1%.
As he applauded the bravery of our troops, the president also focused on their reception from today’s job market. “Our commitment doesn’t end when you take off the uniform… After years of rebuilding Iraq, we want to enlist our veterans in the work of rebuilding America. That’s why we’re committed to doing everything we can to extend more opportunities to those who have served, “ he asserted, citing the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill that provides vets and family members educational benefits, as well as the recent passage of a bill giving employers tax credits of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans unemployed longer than six months and another up to $9,600 for hiring long-unemployed disabled veterans—the only measure from Obama’s American jobs Act that the GOP-controlled Congress has enacted. Also, he noted Michelle Obama’s campaign to find jobs for vets, including teaming up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes” program, which has already put roughly 3,600 vets back to work, and matching G.I.s with employers such as Wal-Mart and CVS.
Such initiatives will become much more important to veterans and their families than gaining hero status. Obama recounted a courageous act from one paratrooper in which the soldier responded that “a hero is a sandwich.” These young people will need jobs, training and business financing so they can serve the nation on our shores. We can all play a role by reaching out to such outfits as Washington, DC-based Veterans Enterprise Training & Services Group, Inc. (VETS GROUP).
After engaging in countless fire fights and risking their lives in numerous tours in the Persian Gulf, our vets should not have to fight another war at home. I truly believe most can offer entrepreneurial and career contributions that will make American industry victorious as companies compete in the global marketplace. All they need is an opportunity.