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July 22, 2008

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"in trying to get the military to go after O[s]ama Bin Laden."

Yikes, thanks -- fixed.

I seem to recall Hillary Clinton also saying, "I don't need any on the job training." Now we can add that to the things McCain shouldn't say.

The list of off-limit subjects when speaking about The Chosen One gets longer every day.

"Bill Clinton was handicapped throughout his presidency by this perception [that candidates have to serve in the military to serve as president and command American troops], which weakened his leverage in trying to get the military to go after Osama bin Laden."

That is a pretty weak defense of Clinton (made by Clarke), if you ask me. Maybe Clinton was "handicapped", but if that was the case it was something he could have worked to over-come.

I don't think the 'chickenhawk' label implies that only veterans can argue for war. It merely highlights the hypocrisy of many who are keen to send others off to fight and die while neither they nor their families bear any burden to support their bellicose rhetoric.

These comments miss the larger point, which really is crucial. Healthy democracies subordinate military leadership to the civilian leadership. The idea that the Joint Chiefs or Petraeus should guide our policy in Iraq is anti-democratic at the core. And experience within the military should not be in any way related to one's capacities for governance. When such connections are made, we inch closer to a security state where the line between civil and military bodies is rubbed out. At that point democracy bites the dust (re: much of South America, 1950-1990).

Basically the politicization of the military can be read within the context of the partisan retrenchment over the past twenty-five years. Everything has been politicized (though I prefer 'partisanized', since of course it is a "political" issue), and the military was caught up in the rush.

I'll second David's point. In the United States civilians tell the military what to do, not the other way around. It's this way for a reason; countries that put the military above the civilian government (like Pakistan and Turkey) tend to suffer repeated coups.

There's been a disturbing trend over the last several years of American politicians have hiding behind the words of generals instead of taking responsibility to act on national security. But military men don't decide when we go to war, they don't decide who we go to war with and they don't decide when to stop fighting.

Neither Admiral Mullen nor General Petraeus are the ultimate actors here - both have their jobs because they agree with the president. If they believed otherwise, they'd have have followed Admiral Fallon and General Shinseki into retirement.

One can only hope that President Obama will not confuse (as some have here) civilian control over the military (which no one--least of all the military--disputes) with the wisdom of the President listening and paying a lot of attention to the military leadership and their views on the consequences of any given plan for withdrawal from Iraq. That's what McCain said he should do, especially since Obama has no experience with the military as a serviceman and little or none as a legislator. And I'm guessing Obama is smart enough to understand that the areas in which he is least knowledgeable and experienced are the ones in which he most needs advice and counsel.

So McCain will be picking a VP nominee with a military background?

One can only hope that President Obama will not confuse (as some have here) civilian control over the military (which no one--least of all the military--disputes) with the wisdom of the President listening and paying a lot of attention to the military leadership and their views on the consequences of any given plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

Considering that paying attention to the military leadership and listening to their views is exactly what Obama has repeatedly spoken about, it's hard to believe that McCain means what you think he does.

In fact, just this month, McCain accused Obama of flip-flopping on Iraq precisely because Obama said he would refine his policy based on advice from military leaders.

Brendan: The presidency is a civilian institution that controls the military...

David M.: Healthy democracies subordinate military leadership to the civilian leadership.

I agree with both of these comments. In addition, as Commander in Chief the President has the right to control and direct specific strategy and tactics as well as overall goals. This is an important responsibility. Bush's bad choice of how to handle the occupation of Iraq led to disaster. His good choice of General Petraeus and the surge has finally turned things around.

The President's power and responsibility over all aspects of the military suggests that it's urgent that the next President have military expertise.

Incidentally, I'm puzzled at Brendan's final paragraph: "It's time to restore balance in this relationship. The presidency is a civilian institution that controls the military, not the other way around."

President Bush has made moves that were opposed by many military leaders. In particular, the surge did not have unanimous support among military leadership. Bush was criticized at times for failing to follow the advice of generals. Bush can be criticized for many things, but being under the thumb of the military isn't one of them.

Bush can be criticized for many things, but being under the thumb of the military isn't one of them.

That's absolutely true. Bush fired anyone who wasn't on board with his plan for Iraq. That's why it's nonsense that Obama has to abide by the views of Petraeus and Mullen - which is the case being made by McCain and the Republicans.

The problem is that everyone has pretended that the generals are making the ultimate decisions about troop levels and timelines. Bush constantly talks of the Petraeus plan. Both Bush and Rumsfeld repeatedly stated that the number of troops in Iraq was dictated by by the generals, not by Rumsfeld's well known desire for a faster, better, leaner force.

Rumsfeld: The one place there is not a varying opinion on that is among the general officers who are responsible for providing the U.S. military effort in Iraq. ... And their unanimous recommendation to the president and to me has been that what we want to do is to have right about [140-150,000 troops in Iraq]

Initially this shields the war strategy from all criticism (How dare you challenge our brilliant generals). But in the end it puts the blame for failures on them as well (General Franks had all the troops he asked for).

What?!?!

That is absurd; of course serving and particularly serving in war-time is a fundamental attribute, although only as essential as the voters determine, to being an effective Commander-in-Chief. It provides one with a perspective that is more informed when dealing with the high command. But more, soldiers have more respect for a commander - general or President - who has gone through what they've gone through; who know the hardship that deployment and warfare is. Shedding blood for McCain is shedding blood for someone who shed it for them. Obama is just a telegenic academic who never risked life and limb for the USA but would ask men to do so.

I remember how awkward it sounded when Madeleine Albright asked, "Well what do we have these soldiers for if not to send them to battle?" She came off sounding like she was talking about a nice pair of earrings she was considering wearing.

TOH

"Shedding blood for McCain is shedding blood for someone who shed it for them."

Have you seen Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" a few too many times...?

This isn't a monarchy and soldiers in the U.S. don't shed blood for the president. Their oath is to defend the nation and the Constitution against it's enemies.

Brendan wrote: "Bill Clinton was handicapped throughout his presidency by this perception [that it's bad for a President to lack military experience], which weakened his leverage in trying to get the military to go after Osama bin Laden."

This formulation turns reality 180 degrees. Clinton was handicapped because he lacked military experience, not because of of a wrong perception. Actually, the perception was accurate. The fact that Clinton was hampered proves the correctness of the perception that a lack of military experience hampers a President's ability to wage war.

If Obama is elected, he will be hampered in his military endeavors, just as Clinton was. Maybe in some ideal world, perception would be different and the lack of military experience wouldn't matter, but, here in the real world, it does.

OBAMA LACKS EXPERIENCE AND JUDGEMENT
Why didn't Obama, who chaired the senate committee on Afghanistan, call a single meeting on Afghanistan? He keeps wearing out the importance of his vote to not invade Iraq over 4 years ago, but that's 20/20 hindsight, because based on intelligence at the time, it made sense to invade Iraq ... that's why so many of his fellow democrats voted for it. Obama is a monday morning quarterback. Why did he vote present 100 times in the senate? After his misstatements his spokespeople are always having to clarify what he really meant. Being a community organizer ... gaining a seat in the state legislature by eliminating the competition on technicalities, instead of votes ... gaining a seat in the senate due to Senator Jack Ryan vacating his seat due to scandal ... barely getting the democratic nomination with less popular votes than Hillary, and without counting Florida and Michigan ... etc.. What are this guy's qualifications to be President of the United States other than outspending his opponents on ads, and getting unfair coverage from a bias media. Be an intelligent responsible American, elect Senator John McCain for President in November '08

Egads!

Another (and somewhat antithetical) "Howard".

From now on I'll have to be known as "Howard Craft".

- Howard Craft

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