Today is Karen Kwiatkowski’s chance.
In 2003, she accelerated her retirement from a job at the Pentagon in protest against what she saw as a neoconservative consolidation of power at the very spear point of post-9/11 national-security policy. In the years preceding, Lt. Colonel Kwiatkowski and other military staff found themselves helplessly pulled along with the current into what became an ill-fated war of choice in Iraq. Like so many others, her point of view was marginalized and often rebuked amid the near zealotry with which Republicans were supporting the invasion and subsequent occupation.
The American Conservative printed a trio of her utterly compelling first-person accounts of what went on at the Pentagon in the run up to Iraqi War. They are a must read — if only to remind oneself what happens when the military is used as tool to advance civilian ideological agenda.
I had observed that many of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon not only had limited military experience, if any at all, but they also advocated theories of war that struck me as rejections of classical liberalism, natural law, and constitutional strictures. More than that, the pressure of the intelligence community to conform, the rejection of it when it failed to produce intelligence suitable for supporting the “Iraq is an imminent threat to the United States” agenda, and the amazing things I was hearing in both Bush and (vice president Dick) Cheney speeches told me that not only do neoconservatives hold a theory based on ideas not embraced by the American mainstream, but they also have a collective contempt for fact.
By August, I was morally and intellectually frustrated by my powerlessness against what increasingly appeared to be a philosophical hijacking of the Pentagon. Indeed, I had sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, but perhaps we were never really expected to take it all that seriously …
The rest, of course, is history — history from which the U.S military (and economy!) is still reeling. But Kwiatkowski is hoping today is the first day in a new career in a different branch of government — the legislative branch. She is running in Tuesday’s Virginia primary to defeat 11-term incumbent Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who she says is an entrenched Washington insider and tool of special interests at a time when Northwest Virginians want less government, more accountability, and, yes, an end to the Long War overseas.
In an interview I did with Kwiatkowski last month, the North Carolina native told me that despite the rich military tradition of Virginia’s 6th District, the Republicans there over time have seen what they once viewed as a patriotic effort to defend America transform into a nebulous mission of nation-building that’s entailed a lot of waste and abuse and pain for military families back home. The payoff is unclear, after nearly 12 years of war.
“That strikes a nerve with our people,” Kwiatkowski told me. She now lives in Shenandoah County, where she is a mother, wife, cattle farmer, and avid writer. She has a Ph.D. in world politics from Catholic University. On the campaign trail, she said, “we’ve found it quite easy to speak the truth, even with what you consider traditional military supporters.”
Speaking the truth in this conservative Virginia valley has earned her enthusiastic support from Tea Party people and especially Ron Paul supporters, many of whom raised up several Republican committee chairs this spring and managed to win over all the delegates going to the GOP convention this summer.
Still, even with this week’s endorsement of a key committee chair and another one from nationally-recognized organic farmer Joel Salatin, Kwiatkowski has her work cut out for her: Goodlatte has never won an election with less than 60 percent of the vote; several times he’s been completely unopposed. He has clear backing from the party establishment and is considered “safe” by the pollsters.
Still, Kwiatkowski hopes to dent his armor a bit in today’s primary contest. And whoever wins today is likely to take the whole thing in the fall: the 6th District is some 70 percent Republican.