I’ve lived long enough to have had 13 different Commanders-in-Chief. Seven of them from the Democratic Party, six from the Republican Party. These 13 men presided during WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Second Gulf War. All of my life has been lived on a parallel war track. Added to that was the Cold War. That would be seven wars altogether.
My lifetime could be appropriately named, The War Years. So far, my 5 grandchildren have all lived through The War Years as well. One wonders if they, like their Papa, will experience a lifetime of wars parallel to their lives. I hope the hell that they do not! Yet, our nation has a war meme within its collective culture. How about adding the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, The Spanish-American War, The Civil War, and WWI to that burgeoning list of wars. That would be a total of 12 wars in 235 years or an average of a war each 20 years.
Is this why our Defense Budget eats up a third of our tax revenues? Is the Pentagon the Sacred Cow that must be kept well and fat? Is this our greatest National Treasure? What do historians tell us about nations and empires which maintained large military forces that consumed a third of the wealth of their people?
What role in all of this does the Commander-in-Chief play? By the way, isn’t that an interesting title for our president? The separation of powers, of course, gives Congress the authority to declare war, but, of course, that power has been manipulated in recent years. Further, does the electorate elect a president based on his war policies? Are any of the dozen or so GOP presidential candidates pimping their military capabilities? Does a military plan or military experience of a presidential candidate merit any value in the eyes of the electorate? Interestingly, in the last election, the electorate chose a non-military candidate over a decorated war hero- while two wars were operational.
History shows a mixed review on the effectiveness of ex-military men serving as president. U.S. Grant may have been a good general, but he was an awful president. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, was effective in both his military and executive roles. Bill Clinton with no military history, served the nation quite well and, interestingly, without any war. John Adams, too, was without military experience as was FDR. John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, all veterans, trumpeted the disastrous Vietnam War. Woodrow Wilson’s infamous reelection phrase, ‘he kept us out of war,’ came back to haunt him as WWI exploded.
For the past 19 years, three Commanders-in-Chief have been in office, one with military service, albeit in the National Guard, GW Bush. I don’t recall that during the 2000 campaign, the issue of military service was raised. Of course, in 2004, that issue was propagandized in a negative fashion. The upshot of this is that the only veteran of the three Commanders-in-Chief initiated two wars. One of the wars was a first-ever preemptive war- a war begun without enemy provocation. Historians surely will have much to say about that war, the War on Iraq. There is also already some controversy about the other war, the War in Afghanistan, and the way that it was conducted, especially in its mission to ‘kill or capture Osama bin Laden.’ That, interestingly, occurred on the watch of the non-veteran president.
President Obama has not only continued the War in Afghanistan but has also increased the troop level there with the obvious result in more service member deaths. He inferred during his election campaign that he wanted to bring that war to a end. So far, in three years, that has not happened, even though the bin Laden was killed. Many people, including people who supported his election, have real questions about all of this. How and when that war comes to an end is still to be written in the history books as is the critique thereof.
During the past 5 years, under two different Commanders-in-Chief, three foreign dictators and scoundrels have been removed from governance with the ‘assistance’ of the United States- Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. Only one of these ‘removals’ required the call-up of the U.S. military. The other two required ‘no boots on the ground.’ The Saddam Hussein mission cost [is costing] billions of tax dollars and tens of thousands of wounded and/or killed military. No American lives were lost on the other two missions.
The outcome of all three ‘missions’ was the same- the ouster of a ruthless dictator. The cost of the three missions, however, cannot be compared. What do these three examples say about the role of the Commander-in-Chief? What does it say about the past military experience of a Commander-in-Chief? Is there yet enough information to make such a conclusion?
Finally, there is this- presidential candidate Rick Perry jumped headlong into the Commander-in-Chief debate by stating rather emphatically, “One of the reasons that I’m running for president is I want to make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of the United States respects highly the president of the United States.” That would seem to suggest that the current President is not being respected by those in uniform. One might ask where he garnered that information. Has a survey been taken of our military asking them whether or not they ‘respect highly’ the President? Has Gov. Perry some information on that issue that the rest of us do not know? Or is that merely cheap political pap, red meat for those who already disrespect President Obama?
Further, is Gov. Perry suggesting that, as he is a veteran, he is better qualified to be Commander-in-Chief? That he would conduct our foreign engagements differently and more effectively due to his past military service? If so, he has little substance upon which to stand if we can judge from our American history books. Yet, as he seeks the nomination, he apparently needs to throw red meat to his far-right base who will, no doubt, eat it up animalisticly.
Commander-in-Chief. Quite the political science topic, eh?