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?


6 thoughts on “Commanders-in-Chief

  1. Couple of points

    Regarding Perry’s assertion that the military does not respect Obama … it’s obviously a campaign attack. Perry used this tactic in winning the TX Gov … he’s an attack dog … check out this May 2011 Gallop poll … overall, Obama is holding up better with military veterans than the overall population. Perry’s strategy will help him with older Vets and those opposed to Don’tAskDon’tTell.

    GWB’s National Guard experience was irrelevant in 2000 (Gore was a military on-the-ground journalist in Viet Nam) but in 2004, there was another Perry from Texas that impacted the race as Bob Perry funded the SwiftBoat attacks on Kerry.

    Regardless of which party controls the White House, defense spending has grown at unsustainable levels.
    Under President Bush, military spending averaged 3.9 percent of GDP.
    Under President Obama, it has averaged 4.9 percent—a full percentage point higher.
    It is incomprehensible to assume spending under the president who launched the War on Terror is insufficient for even the most hawkish member of Congress … yet they do as one Minnesota Congressman who opposes domestic earmarks defends the building of unwanted F-22 jets as a “good jobs program”.

    Surely there must be something that could be cut ? How about military bands … read about how the Pentagon currently spends $339 million annually on military bands, $305 million of which goes to personnel costs …

    Did you see the CBS Evening News story last week about changing the military retirement programs … read the suggestion from the Simpson-Bowles commission … the House approved legislation that would make a one-time bump and then freeze it to overall CostOfLiving even though healthcare funding typically grows much faster than COL.

    And isn’t the real problem that America is the World’s Policeman ? Eric Cantor and a bunch of Republicans are in Israel this week … where they will no doubt get thanked for funding the Iron Dome project (which successful averted a rocket yesterday) …
    and how about South Korea … read
    South Korea is not a defenseless country … it has a force of 686,000 active troops and 4.5 million in reserve, supported by 538 combat aircrafts, 2,300 tanks and a 230-ship navy. And as Senator McCain (R-AZ) remarked in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, “there is no doubt…that South Korean forces are among the most capable and best equipped in the world.” In fact, the South Korea military is so competent that it sent 3,600 troops to the Kurdish region of Iraq in 2004.
    Then why is American taxpayers expending over a BILLION Dollars a year (okay, to be more accurate at least $1.23 billion) with 28,500 US troops stationed there.
    Footnote : A little history, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to reduce the troop strength but the South Korean Defense Ministry objected. South Korea wanted to maintain the American military and eventually in June 2008, the Pentagon under Secretary Robert Gates announced that the drawdown to the present 28,500. South Korea would like to keep the troops in place until 2016.

    There a lot of questions … and costs … so better start with your Members of Congress … ask them if a sur-tax should be enacted to pay for the military … since everyone agrees that protecting the country is paramount, then what’s wrong with a sur-tax … why are we pushing the bills to the next generation … enact a sur-tax, and you will see citizens regularly challenging F-35 aircraft.

    I will bet that Ron Paul would embrace the idea.

  2. I will bet that Ron Paul would embrace the idea. Paul finished #1 in the NH straw poll and #2 in Iowa. Do they know how anti-military Paul is???

  3. FYI : Ron Paul Polling 10x Stronger in August 2011 vs August 2007

    From SmartPolitics : Although he has been (famously) ignored by much of the media during the 2012 election cycle (vis-à-vis his relative standing in the GOP field), Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is polling at approximately 10 percent in the race for the GOP nomination. That represents a monumental uptick from his standing in the Republican field four years prior in mid-August 2007. At that time, Paul was averaging only about 1 percent among likely voters in a similarly crowded field, with Rasmussen and CNN surveying Paul at 0 percent, Quinnipiac at 2 percent, and Gallup at 3 percent. In polls with end dates over the last two weeks this cycle, Paul has come in at 6 percent according to a FOX News poll, 9 percent at Rasmussen, 12 percent at CNN, and 14 percent at USA Today/Gallup. It remains to be seen whether Representative Paul will see an accompanying boost in campaign fundraising in 2012 compared to the 2008 cycle, during which he raised an impressive $34.5 million.

    Oh, and for his birthday, he raised over $1 million dollars !

    Remember how he continued to dog McCain in 2008 … he was not allowed to speak at the RNC … angering his supporters … he will do it again in 2012.

  4. “Although Bush apparently missed at least eight months of duty between May 1972 and May 1973, he was granted an early discharge so that he could start Harvard business school in the fall of 1973. ”

    If I was just late to muster, there’d be hell to pay. Sorry, I don’t consider Bush a veteran. I do believe our military budget is way screwed up. Ever ask a veteran about the food? I bet the government pays steak prices for peanut butter sandwiches. And the cost of equipment is just a joke. I bet Viet Nam is probably still using parts we left there. And then there’s the earmarks for equipment that the military doesn’t even want, but it gets made because the factory is in some senator’s state.

    Regarding respect for the Commander-In-Chief…..could you believe that some clown yelled “You Lie” at the President, then was re-elected. Sometimes I worry that the U.S. military leadership has too much power; remember all the stuff Clinton went through when he tried to let gays serve openly?

    And yes, we have too many wars. The only decade I can remember war free is the 80’s. I used to lament that I had Viet Nam followed by A.I.D.S., then I remember my parents had the depression followed by World War II. Unfortunately, I believe the human race is too selfish and greedy to stop fighting. OK, add stupid to that (reference: certain blogs).

  5. Mud—- Did I inspire this piece? That would be an honor for me. But I have to agree with the world police comment made by Minnesota. That does seem to be a problem.

    I’m not going to lie, I’m only 35, so obviuosly I still have a lot of investigating (internet) and reading (books) to do. But I was always under the impression that this country fought wars against invading armies. Now it seems, that we are everywhere.

    I disagree with your comment on Clinton though. I do think he did a good job, but he did send troops to fight in Yugoslavia’s war. A friend of mine served over there.

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