Perhaps, says TIME Pentagon reporter Mark Thompson. “These days, the military is much more likely to exert influence over social policy than over military policy. Look at what happened with Clinton’s attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military. The military exerted its political power and made it very clear that they weren’t going to tolerate his viewpoint.” Conversely, adds Thompson, debates surrounding recent military conflicts clearly demonstrate the disparity of opinions on military involvement within both the Republican and conservative camps. So while the military will probably never present a united front on potential solutions in East Timor, they won’t hesitate to flex their political muscle when it comes to the social issues playing out in their own barracks — or their own backyards.
The U.S. military elite has long been associated with solid conservative values, but generally it has refrained from airing its views, or even voting, choosing instead to maintain a veneer of political neutrality. Preliminary findings of a new study indicate that neutrality may be fading. According to the study, conducted by political science professors from Duke and the University of North Carolina, military leaders are voicing more conservative views than ever before, and they are not views shared by most of their civilian counterparts. The majority of today’s military identifies itself as Republican, believes that prayer should be permitted in public schools and thinks military leaders share the values of the American people. This sparks some concern: Will a conservative, vocal military emerge as a new political force?