Sir! No Sir!
Perhaps CheneyBush’s greatest accomplishment is to create a state of permanent fear in America. He’s hardly the first president to frighten his countrymen with the specter of danger but he is certainly the most successful in establishing a bunker mentality that has pervaded this nation since 9-11. On his watch our nation became a “homeland”, something that sounds more like Germany under the Nazis or Russia under the Communists. Unlike his predecessors who fought a cold war, he has deployed our military on a near permanent hot war behind which he can wrap himself in the flag and tell Americans that legal protections and Constitutional rights are “quaint”.
Most insidious, to my way of thinking, is his claim to be commander-in-chief. I don’t dispute his right to claim that title—the role is established in the Constitution. What I dispute is the idea that he is MY commander-in-chief. He is commander-in-chief of the armed forces of which I am no longer a member. What is particularly disturbing about establishing commander-in-chief as the president’s primary role is the idea that we civilians owe him the same deference as the military. That is a formula for dictatorship.
It is also a perversion of the president’s role in American society and politics. Back in undergraduate political science, I learned that the president has several roles, one of which is commander-in-chief. Scanning the internet, I found this list of presidential roles, which also includes chief diplomat, head of state and chief executive. The list is the same one I learned years ago plus the addition of chief guardian of the economy. Most of these roles involve some level of politics and policy which, in turn, involve debate, discussion and dialogue. C-in-C is the least amenable to debate, discussion and dialogue. In that role, the president is a commander who should merit obedience from his subordinates.
Which is why I find CheneyBush’s emphasis on this one aspect of the office to be so disturbing. Americans have become used to the idea of the president of the US as their commander-in-chief even though the vast majority of Americans are not in the military. I do not have a commander-in-chief; I have a president who serves in that role but I no more owe him obedience than I owe obedience to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The commander-in-chief role is important to me in that it establishes the principle of civilian control. More important to me in the current context is the role of chief diplomat—establishing the course of US relations with other nations which determines when and how the military will be used in protecting American national interests. The president, for better or (in CheneyBush’s case) worse, is in fact MY chief diplomat, a role that is or should be clearly open do debate, discussion and dialogue.
Don't expect any change from the 2008 election. Even Barack Obama has fallen into the commander-in-chief mindset. During his visit to Iraq, he said as president he would listen to the military but make decisions based on "a range of factors that I have to take into account as a commander in chief.". I would prefer that he consider factors in a much broader context of chief diplomat. The military is a tool for achieving specific missions and I would certainly expect any president to seek the generals’ advice in planning and executing those missions. I would also expect a president to keep the generals in a subordinate role and seek broader counsel when determining what missions to undertake. Those decisions are a civilian policy matter.
President Kennedy probably summed up the appropriate relationship between the generals and the civilian leadership when he said something like this (*) about Air Force General Curtis LeMay, “If I ever had to order an attack on the Soviet Union, I would want General LeMay flying the lead bomber. I do not want him making the decision to attack.”
America has a civilian commander-in-chief for its armed forces. That’s in the Constitution. We do not need a national commander-in-chief.
(*) I recall reading this but could not find the exact quote. I did come across this piece on General LeMay, which gives a good view of why Kennedy would say something like that.
The title of this post is also the title of an excellent documentary about GI resistance during the Vietnam War. GI resistance is still important but equally important is that all Americans resist militarization of our country by CheneyBush and his war fetishists.