Sunday, October 26, 2008


Military Leaders as Presidents

Conventional wisdom among the non-partisan voters is that Obama is a better person to deal with an economic crisis or depression, but McCain is a better person to deal with the threat of another attack by Al Qaeda or other terrorist organization. Why?

Well, for one thing, there was the Cold War and the Bomb. For years we were told that the President carried with him the doomsday box that would rain nuclear bombs on our big enemy (Russia) if that enemy started a sneak attack on us. We had memories of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We had memories of the unimaginable destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wrought by rather small nuclear bombs. That is, they were rather small by later standards. We didn't want such destruction applied to any of our large cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, etc. We were afraid.

Thinking of all this led me to ask whether a successful general would really be a good and successful president. We've had examples of generals as presidents: Washington, the first Harrison, Taylor, Grant, and Eisenhower, to name a few. The most successful ones were Washington and Eisenhower. Harrison died after only a month in office and Taylor after two years. Grant served eight years. Although he was a successful general in the Civil War, he was rather a failure as a President. My history book contained information about the corruption and dishonesty of his appointees, about which he wasn't able to do much.

George Patton was a very successful general during World War II. We know about him from the movie of that name. He took chances and managed to surprise the enemy. He was a gambler and his gambles paid off. If they hadn't, he would not have become the hero that he was. Do we want a President who, like Patton, takes chances and attempts to surprise his enemy? Perhaps we do if the main business of government is waging war on Al Qaeda.

But that's not the main business of government. Al Qaeda is not the Soviet Union. It does not have, so far at least, ICBM's that it can aim at us. We hope that it does not acquire any nuclear weapons capable of destroying New York or Washington. Preventing it from obtaining such weapons does not reqire a general as President. It requires a first-class intelligence operation that's able to infiltrate the organization and discover its capabilities and plans. The best way to combat and eventually destroy Al Qaeda is to enlist the cooperation of as many other nations as we can. We need the cooperation of Afghanistan, of Pakistan, of Russia, of China, of Uzbekistan, of every nation in Europe, and so on. We have seen the failure of an approach involving only our own military capability, plus some help from the British and token help from several other nations. A general as President, unless he is a Washington or an Eisenhower, is not likely to depend primarily on diplomacy rather than military force to assure national security.

I think by now I've made my point. John McCain is a good man and has many good and useful qualities and would make a better President than George Bush. But just being better than Bush isn't good enough. In my view, McCain's military experience counts for little in comparing him with Barack Obama. Neither man is really qualified and experienced enough to be a first-rate President. Either one would have to learn on the job, as all Presidents have had to. Since he is quite a bit younger, I believe that Obama would be a faster learner than McCain.

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