Friday, April 18, 2008

On Being "Commander In Chief"

Writing in slate.com, Fred Kaplan on 4/16/08 explains "when it comes to national-security affairs—the heart of his campaign, the center of his career—does Sen. John McCain know what he's talking about?"

Kaplan refers to McCain's (unintentional or intentional) recent mix-up among Sunnis, Shiites, and Iranians, fascinating in a candidate whose claim to the presidency is staked on a supposed knowledge of foreign policy. Still, the more revealing remark by the Arizona senator, as Kaplan recounts, was a response to whether he would divert U.S. troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to quash the resurgent Taliban and capture Osama Bin Laden. McCain responded: "I would not do that unless Gen. Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that."

But as Kaplan points out, General David Petraeus is commander of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq and therefore not in a position to make that decision. The commander of United States Central Command, who is responsible for the entire Middle East and south Asia, was until recently Admiral William "Fox" Fallon. Admiral Fallon (no fan of General Petraeus) believes that U.S. resources should be diverted from Iraq to other crises in the region and was fired recently after stating there would be a shift in strategy in the Iraq war. Nevertheless, candidate McCain neglected to mention that he would have asked the commander of U.S. Central Command his opinion on policy.

This suggests the most serious issue. Diversion of American troops to Afghanistan, Kaplan notes, is a matter not of strategy and tactics, but of policy and priorities. It is not a decision to made by any military commander but by the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Apparently, for all the tough talk, the vaunted "straight talk" of the McCain campaign, the senator wants to take a pass on this role of the leader of the free world.

Not so, apparently, Barack Obama. In a rare moment raising an actual issue of policy, Charlie Gibson at the Democratic presidential debate on April 16, 2008 asked Obama "so you'd give the same rock-hard pledge, that no matter what the military commanders said, you would give the order to bring them home?" The Illinois senator responded:

Because the commander-in-chief sets the mission, Charlie.
That's not the role of the generals.
And one of the things that's been interesting about the president's approach lately has been to say, "Well, I'm just taking cues from General Petraeus."
Well, the president sets the mission. The general and our troops
carry out that mission. And, unfortunately, we have had a bad mission set by our civilian leadership, which our military has performed brilliantly. But it is time for us to set a strategy that is going to make the American people safer.
Now, I will always listen to our commanders on the ground with
respect to tactics, once I've given them a new mission, that we are
going to proceed deliberately, in an orderly fashion, out of Iraq, and we are going to have our combat troops out. We will not have permanent bases there.
Once I have provided that mission, if they come to me and want to
adjust tactics, then I will certainly take their recommendations into consideration. But, ultimately, the buck stops with me as the
commander-in-chief.


Barack Obama, whose weak point is purported to be foreign policy, understands the role he would assume upon taking the presidency. John McCain, whose strong point is purported to be foreign policy, apparently does not understand. That will tell you something about the man the Repub Party believes should be the next President of the United States.

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