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NYT: A Moderate Conservative Dilemma

Author: David Brooks
March 29, 2012


David Brooks asks, "Can the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who were trained to be ruthlessly pragmatic, find a home in either political party? Can center-right moderates find a home in the GOP, even in coastal California?"

Nathan Fletcher was raised in Arkansas, played college baseball in California and enlisted in the Marines as a reserve in 1997. He saw combat in 2004, based in the Sunni Triangle in Iraq.

One day Fletcher's unit went to relieve a convoy and was, in turn, ambushed by insurgents with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire. According to his military records, the unit "attempted to break through the enemy line of resistance several times in order to relieve the convoy, each time coming under heavy, sustained fire, during which Sergeant Fletcher never wavered in his determination to engage the enemy."

As detailed in fine reporting by Craig Gustafson of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Fletcher was awarded an achievement medal with a Combat "V" for Valor.

But the war on terror is different from other wars. As an intelligence officer, Fletcher didn't spend most of his time, in Iraq and later around Somalia, shooting at a faraway enemy. He spent it meeting with locals, providing city services, establishing relationships with people completely unlike himself.

He was good at it. In a 2006 report, his commanding officer wrote that Fletcher "is one of the finest Marines, regardless of rank, I have worked with in over 25 years of service to our corps."

Fletcher already had political ambitions while he was in the Marines. But he came back from his 10 years in the corps with other attributes. First, survivor's guilt. The fact that he had survived while others did not gave him a strong sense that he should make the rest of his life count for something. Second, he absorbed the military's spirit of can-do pragmatism. Third, he is impatient with military metaphors applied to politics.

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