Friday, March 07, 2008

Commander in chief

During newspaper deliveries on Thursday, Bill O'Reilly was pontificating about which presidential candidate would be the best commander in chief. O'Reilly leaned heavily toward McCain because of his military experience.

I think it is possible that McCain might be the best commander in chief, but I'm not certain of it, and if he would be, I don't think experience would have much to do with it. Military experience in presidential candidates can easily be overrated. No matter how much civilians may try to keep up, they can't really have the range of knowledge and experience that we expect from top generals. So even the most experienced presidents have to lean heavily on generals for military advice, and the knowledge that presidents have might tempt them to leap to wrong conclusions.

Consider that the two greatest wartime presidents this country has had were Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lincoln's military experience was so slight that even he joked about it; Roosevelt held a civilian post as assistant secretary of the Navy. He was an able administrator, apparently, but never wore the uniform.

So what made these two presidents successful as war presidents? Three things, it seems to me: They defined the mission, both for the military and the public; they kept their eye on the ball; and they had good generals.

How do the current candidates stack up? Barack Obama, it seems to me, wins big on the first point. Can you imagine either of the other two candidates giving one the great Lincoln or Roosevelt wartime speeches? Me neither.

On point two, Obama also seems to have the edge, based on his opposition to the Iraq War. It isn't just that he opposed the war; that was easy enough. But his 2002 speech laid out the case against the war in blunt and eloquent terms: The war was dumb, unnecessary and outside our real interests.

Point three? A tougher call. Lincoln went through quite a few generals before he found the right one. Roosevelt had an easier time of it; Eisenhower was perfectly suited for the kind of war World War II was.

My guess is that Clinton might be best at weeding through generals because she is tough and ruthless. McCain's military experience might give him an edge in cutting through the bull to see what's really going on, but it might also make it harder for him to make the right call. So I'm not sure. It's an open question.


Anonymous said...


I would suggest you need to be more informed of the how each candidate has voted on all past issues. Why would you elect a president who does not understand the importance of defending our country's rights and freedom we have to this day?

Jay Larry Lundeen said...

Hillary considered that she was "locked at the hip" with her husband's policies during his presidency. In that regard it's interesting to note Mr. Clinton's actions regarding military preparedness.

In less than three years, deployments increased while manpower decreased from 2.1 million to 1.6 million. That decrease was the foundation upon which stood Al Gore's purported "reinvention" of government. Of the 305,000 employees removed from the federal payroll, 286,000 (or 90%) were military cuts.The statistics for America's defense during the Clinton years reveal the deep-seated animosity of the administration toward those who served in the military. The Army was cut from 18 divisions to 12. The Navy was reduced from 546 ships to 380. Air Force flight squadrons were cut from 76 to 50.

Whether or not Hillary has changed her views in considering our nation's security is yet to be seen. Perhaps someone in the press would actually dare to ask Mrs. Clinton exactly what she would say when the phone rings at 3AM.

cc said...

My thoughts on who should be CIC, well it won't be Clinton or McCain. I like Obama, he is a motivator and this is what we need in Washington, D.C., and I believe he is sincere, Clinton seems to fake and when she shakes your hand it is very weak, and McCain's temper worries the heck out of me, and Clinton has a nasty temper too.

The only one running a good campaign is Obama and Clinton keeps trying to tear it down, you don't mess with your own party - she has broken too many rules.

Just my opinion, and you all know who I am voting for now.

Mark T said...

McCain was fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy. He lost four jet aircraft before his fifth was shot down in Vietnam. He lost four aircraft prior to being shot down in Vietnam (all in accidents). He was attacking a light bulf factory when shot down.

If the Democrats wanted to play Swiftboat, this would be the guy. My guess is, however, that they don't know how to do it and still have plausible deniability. It would backfire.

David said...

Jay Larry Lundeen,
This is the wrong place to visit to expect support for your point. Even with the Clinton cuts, we spend more on the military than all of the other countries in the world combined. So if the entire rest of the world decided to gang up on us -- an exceedingly unlikely worst-case scenario -- we would probably still win. Cuts were in order.

Anonymous 1054: What do you mean?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:54, I am not sure I get your point. As we watch this president fail to defend our [constitutional] rights and freedoms thru the so-called Patriot Act and the FISA bill, we seem to have fewer rights "to this day."