Foreign Policy Blogs

For The Next Commander In Chief, Money Talks

Apparently, the senior brass of the US military are unsure of Obama's "leadership" qualities to be commander in chief. However, what is their definition of leadership? What qualities make a good commander in chief? Does previous military experience matter for this position?

Personal military experience doesn't help unless the person was of flag rank and was in command of vast amounts of men and material. Otherwise, what difference does it make what someone did when they were in their early 20s? The only president I can think of whose military experience had a direct bearing on his role as commander in chief is Eisenhower. As Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe he managed an international coalition and oversaw the strategy of an entire theater of war. This knowledge could have definitely been helpful had Eisenhower decided to go to war. However, he never involved the military in anything more serious than a show of force, perhaps because he had seen war and knew how terrible it was firsthand.

Which presidents have had similar experiences? George W. Bush was a fighter pilot in the National Guard. This means he flew planes over Texas one weekend a month. How did this experience qualify him to wage counter-insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq? The president before him, Bill Clinton, never served in the military. George H. W. Bush flew a dive bomber against Japanese aircraft carriers in the Pacific Campaign of WWII. 45 years later, how did this experience help him wage a mechanized desert campaign in Iraq? Ronald Reagan served as a public relations officer in California during WWII. Gerald Ford served aboard a carrier in the Pacific. What action he saw was meaningless to the Vietnam War. I could go through the careers of Nixon, Johnson and Kennedy, but none of their personal experiences in the military helped them to make decisions as commander in chief during the Vietnam War.

I spent three years in the infantry, deployed to two combat zones and if I was elected president in November, I would have no more knowledge of being commander in chief than someone like Obama who never spent a day in the military. What does my experience occupying Somalia in 1993 have to do with the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq? Do I have some sort of esoteric knowledge that would allow me to make the right decisions that someone who never heard a shot fired in anger might not be able to make? The only thing I might know is how much it truly sucks to be there and how badly the troops want to come home. I may feel for the plight of the grunts but I would have larger considerations, such as the national security of the United States of America.

What experience do the three leading candidates have? Obama and Clinton never served in the military at all. McCain's experience consists of flying bombing missions over Vietnam, eventually being shot down and made a prisoner for over five years. He courageously defied his captors and returned with honor, but how does this give him commander in chief experience? Unless he is going to help teach SERE school, McCain's military experience has not given him any more qualifications than the average man on the street.

In an article in the Washington Times, General John Keane, an architect of the Iraq War said, “Anyone who is advocating a precipitous pullout of U.S. forces, believing this will be a catalyst for political progress, does not understand the realities of Iraq and the minds of the key political leaders.” Does Keane have the right to talk about the "realities of Iraq?" This is a man who admitted he “never saw the insurgency coming.” I was able to figure out that there would be an Iraqi national resistance long before we attacked and I left the army as a Specialist.  

However, the military's real problem with Obama becoming commander in chief is not where he stands on Iraq or his lack of experience, it is his possible willingness to curb our record breaking military spending, which is more than the rest of the world combined. "Defense industry executives worry that Mr. Obama will end six years of defense budget increases and, as he has repeatedly said on the campaign trail and in debates, tap into war and military funds to support his plan for universal health care."

According to the military brass, this is the real qualification for being a good commander in chief: whether the candidate will support a "strong" military or not. In this case, "strong" does not mean effective or even able to win wars. It means an ever increasing budget for them to play with.



FPA Administrator
FPA Administrator

Blog updates from the FPA online editorial team and op-ed publisher for special contributors.

Great Decisions Discussion group