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Elections & Voting Last Updated: Jun 10th, 2008 - 00:45:16

What is it about the alleged need for military service in order to be a good commander in chief?
By Eric Arnow
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 10, 2008, 00:14

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One of the themes of this presidential campaign is the issue of the respective candidates� military service or lack thereof. Somehow it seems that military service is as seen some sort of litmus test for whether a candidate is qualified for the job of president, with the attendant responsibility as commander in chief.

First of all, let�s look at the record of past presidents. The two biggest wars of the 20th Century, WWI and WWII, saw Presidents Wilson and Roosevelt, neither of whom had ever served in the military, yet those wars were won conclusively, with their presidential leadership. Of course, Truman finished WWII, however, both Germany and Japan had effectively been defeated by the time he came to office.

Looking at more recent presidents, we have our current president, who apparently served in the Texas Air National Guard, but saw no combat and went AWOL. Bill Clinton saw no service, and Ronald Reagan was first in the Army Reserves, but then went on to making training movies during WWII. The question of military service, specifically combat, doesn�t apply to any of these people.

George Herbert Walker Bush served in the US Navy and did combat flying but was shot down, ending his service early.

So if three of the four recent presidents had no combat experience at all, and the two presidents who won the two biggest wars had no military experience at all, why is this an issue?

Looking at President Bush, who calls himself the War President, who had no real military experience aside from learning to fly an airplane that was not meant for Vietnam combat, what is the consensus of his achievement in prosecuting two wars?

Well, contrary to what we were told, they have not been a cakewalk. It seems that the public has spoken and his military adventures are widely perceived to be failures, with even staunch ally Australia saying �enough� and pulling their troops out of Iraq, and the European Union and NATO shows little enthusiasm for fighting in Afghanistan.

Turning to John McCain, one might conclude that his military experience is a plus. He did indeed graduate from the Naval Academy, but fifth from the bottom of his class. Based on his academic performance, that would not cause one to have a lot of confidence in his tactical or strategic ability. He did fly combat operations in Vietnam, was shot down, captured and suffered in captivity for five years. Does suffering in prison qualify as a measure of military judgment? One could say that it shows mental toughness, but on the other hand, he himself has said in an interview that solitary confinement, which he experienced, can cause long-term damage psychologically.

So the honor of having flown, been shot down and being a POW is offset by the possible damage to wise judgment, especially under pressure in making military decisions.

Comparing McCain�s fifth from lowest in his class at Annapolis, Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. So in terms of sheer academic achievement, Obama has an advanced degree from a highly prestigious University, and unlike George Bush, who was a C student at Yale, and whose professor at Harvard Business School had little regard for Bush�s capabilities or character, Obama, fared quite a bit better, being voted president of the Harvard Law Review. This would indicate that, policy issues aside, Obama appears to be more intellectually competent than McCain. Ron Paul graduated from an excellent medical school, Duke University, and Ralph Nader graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School. From a purely academic standpoint the two superior candidates are Obama and Nader, with Nader having by far the most experience of any candidate.

So what has this all to do with the issue of commander in chief? The job of the president is to faithfully execute the Constitution and the laws of the country. Neither a degree in military strategy nor military medals are required parts of the resume.

What are the most important qualities? I would suggest that the ability to choose the best advisors, whether military personnel, or cabinet and other officials is paramount.

Without getting good advice, the president cannot make good decisions.

The second aspect is, to use a quaint but under-respected term, wisdom. If the president cannot make wise decisions, all else fails. Haven�t the past seven years of a failing economy, failing wars, failing energy policy and failing ability to protect people from disasters like Katrina given enough proof of that? C student frat boys don�t make good commanders in chief.

So, given the record of past presidents, who were not generals but won wars, but who did show great intelligence, why not give intelligence a try? We don�t need a president whom we can share a beer with, but one who will solve our country�s numerous problems.

Furthermore, why again this emphasis on commander in chief? The US spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined. The current doctrine of national defense is �preemptive war.� That is fancy talk for �shoot first and ask questions later -- if at all.� Has this proven to be a successful strategy?

One of the most basic rules of human relations is �don�t make enemies.� And the corollary is to solve problems with adversaries without resorting to conflict. We can continue to spend our country into bankruptcy in search for ever elusive security with trillions of dollars of weapons. However, with a little wisdom, dealing with people would leave a lot more resources for investing in the real source of national wealth, a healthy, well educated population.

These objectives do not require a good commander in chief but a good president.

So let�s put the idea of commander in chief in perspective.

In closing, one of the most famous world leaders saw combat, and then went on to lead his country as its commander in chief into total ruin with his extremely poor military and tactical judgment. That was Adolf Hitler.

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