Under Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, the president’s primary duty is to be the military’s commander-in-chief. Unfortunately, the military is an alien culture for today’s leading presidential candidates.
There are six things these candidates need to understand about our armed forces and our current military situation.
First, they need to understand that our forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are burdened by the current bureaucratic process of developing, funding and training soldiers.
Although the past four years have demonstrated that technology is insufficient to replace ground forces, too much of the Pentagon’s budget continues to go for Cold War-era Navy and the Air Force strategic systems. This drains resources from those fighting the ground war. The president can fix the problem by insuring that ground forces are included in the National Security Strategy (NSS).
The Defense Department is charged with identifying unique military missions within the NSS and developing Defense Planning Guidance which allocates portions of the budget to each service. The lack of presidential guidance has resulted in our ground forces getting crumbs while expensive Cold War-era hardware such as advanced fighters and aircraft carriers are purchased despite questionable justification and with only a notional enemy in mind.
It appears, to this observer, that the wars we are fighting and are likely to fight will remain manpower intensive. Allocations of the budget should reflect this 21st century reality.
Second, the Pentagon is staffed mostly by civilians and uniformed members with no combat experience. Combat understanding and experience provide an elevated sense of purpose and help focus on things that are important. We must fill as many of the Pentagon’s top jobs — civilian and military — with people who identify experientially with the brave warriors hunting jihadists in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The lack of combat experience at the Pentagon’s helm has wasted lives and cost the taxpayer billions of dollars. The effectiveness of the improvised explosive device (IED) illustrates the problem. It took three years before we deployed a vehicle that suits the mission; the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected, or MRAP. It took about the same amount of time to create an organization with the mandate and resources to tackle the threat, the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization.
Uniformed leaders with combat experience wouldn’t tolerate stodgy bureaucracies and lame excuses. They would drive the bureaucracy at warp speed or run over it to find effective solutions for our troops. Such leaders would also de-emphasize the “Buck Rogers” projects and focus on commonsense solutions for our fighters.
While we may lack civilian leaders with combat experience, they can be taught their role in the process, which is to develop the NSS and then budget accordingly. The uniformed members must then be allowed to do what they are supposed to do, which is to execute the NSS.
Third, the all volunteer force is highly perishable. The nation needs this battle hardened force for the long war. The president must understand that failure to protect this national treasure might cause it to dry up and force us to resort to conscription.
The volunteer force must be bolstered by meeting its needs. Military families must have adequate housing, medical care, fair wages, education opportunities, assignment stability and reliable retirement provisions.
Many of our military have been killed or wounded in battle. We must care for the families of the fallen and keep the nation’s promise to the wounded by efficiently processing their disability claims. Retired pay should not be reduced by the amount of disability one receives. Also, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs must be streamlined so disabled veterans don’t wait years for their disability to be adjudicated.
The current all volunteer force only works because of our National Guard and Reserves. These forces, however, are a hold over from the Cold War. The structure needs to be changed and more active duty troops added to allow reducing the Guard’s commitments so they can be returned to the states with their mission and equipment matched to state requirements.
Fourth, our military will enthusiastically follow a commander-in-chief who has a clear campaign plan and who properly identifies the enemy. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has bungled Iraq on both counts.
We are not at war with terrorism, which is merely a tactic. We are at war with Islamic jihadists whose radical ideology is supported by Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Iran, for now, kills through its proxy, Hezbollah, and sends its al Qods (Jerusalem) Force into Iraq to train Shia militias to attack our troops.
The president must define his campaign plan. The military needs a set of achievable goals and an end-game strategy coupled with a clear objective.
Fifth, preemption may serve the nation’s best interests. A military set of contingency plans must be kept ready but diplomatic and economic levers should be used until it’s clear that our national goals cannot be achieved through them. And — as the Iraq war demonstrates — any president must understand that failing to conceal the timing, methods and means of military action can be fatal to the achievement of our goals, and to many of our soldiers.
The global war on Islamofascists provides situations where rogue nations may develop weapons of mass destruction. Over time, reliance on purely diplomatic pressures can be disastrous. Our present-day opponents understand power. Having the “big stick” is meaningless if we are perceived as being unwilling to use it.
Sixth, presidents should study the fallout from past wars, make the case well based on solid facts if going to war and never declare victory until the war is really over. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill cautioned, “Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Ultimately, presidents need credibility. Rhetoric must be matched with meaningful action. Promises to the troops must be kept. Forthrightness is required regarding the threats faced by the nation. The military is not a toy to be deployed casually at the whim of the president. It is a force comprised of citizens who deserve respect, compassion, and the best possible leadership.