When I was in law school in 1959 and graduated in 1962, all the courses one took the first year and a half were mandatory. Then the tight control loosened, and you were able to pick and choose what appealed to you. In today’s world, some schools have opened the early curriculum to a limited number of choices. One course I took was Constitutional law, taught by a universally known scholar. He arrived and all 150 of us fell silent. He put his briefcase on his desk (which sat on a platform), placed his notebook on top of his briefcase, sat down and in a voice and cadence that came as close to an overdose of some strong opiate droned on for what seemed like an eternity. Most of the time, I think it more likely, I dozed off. I have no recollection of actually reading the entire Constitution and Bill of Rights—neither is a long text. Presently, because of all the talk that we are in or approaching a constitutional crises, I thought it more than wise to read our Constitution in its entirety, along with the Bill of Rights.
These incredible documents are not a jumble of legal terms or convoluted proposals. The language is clear and unambiguous. All but one small section of the Constitution is directed to how our government will be formed and how it is to address the needs and protection of those who reside in the US. The one small paragraph I referred to is addressed to us individually- you and me. That small section describes sedition– the probation of an individual’s attempt at the violent overthrow of our government.
As I was reading the text of the Constitution, one section stood out. Although it is referred to all the time in the press and television, it was the first time that I stopped and thought about its meaning and import. The Constitution states that The President is the nation’s Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces. Commander-in-Chief is a military term. It means that the President, President Trump, is the highest ranking military person in our nation, although he wears no uniform or ranking epilates. There was a clear reason for the architects of the Constitution to insert that section, and there is a treasure trove of writing during its drafting. There was to be civilian control of any armed services. The top generals and admirals were to have a civilian “boss”. While it is true that in recent memory no American president has had military experience (unlike Bush I and I think of the corporal who led the German military tactically and strategically) each prior American president has been engaged in an ongoing, serious learning process to formulate our national military objectives that form the guidepost for our military commanders. Some of them have performed very well, others have squandered the commission.
That role has been clearly abandoned by our present Commander-in-Chief. At the end of his first six months in office (and during the transition period), the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (our longest war, now 17 years old and counting), he ignored these hostilities other than to promise that “he will win” each. He has, in fact, abandoned much of his authority as Commander-in-Chief to the Secretary of Defense and his National Security Advisor.
His hope is transparent, as with all missteps that are clearly attributable to him: to escape any responsibility from any error coming out of the White House, including those strategic military errors that had and will take place on his watch. He had to sign off on a SEAL mission to Yemen, during which one of those on the mission was killed. When questioned by the press as to the events that led up to the SEAL’s death he said that “the buck stopped somewhere else” “They (the generals) came to see me they explained what they wanted to do, the generals … and they lost…” the SEAL combatant.
In two years he has not visited the troops at any overseas base. Which he said is “not overly necessary” “I’m very busy.” Appearing this weekend on a Fox sunday morning program with Chris Wallace he said that he is putting together a plan to visit the troops. And today he criticized the military for not eliminating bin Laden sooner. To use a military term, he was AWOL from the major memorial services to commemorate the fallen soldiers from WWI. From the NY Times: “ … shortly after becoming commander in chief, President Trump asked so few questions in a briefing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., that top military commanders cut the number of prepared PowerPoint slides to three from 18, said two officials….”
I am not a hawk. Diplomacy is the road I always prefer to take. Having said that, it is also imperative in a world where all the players, small and large, are not on the same side of peaceful co-existence without the desire to expand its boarders, we must be sufficiently prepared. The military must be prepared, both in personal and hardware to take on any contingency that might occur anywhere in this world.
We should have learned that lesson in 1935, running up to the invasion of Poland in 1939. One of the claims was Poland was very far away, and there was a large uncontrollable ocean between us and the European continent. We as a nation sat on our hands and literally watched the world crumble under the weight of a German blitz, then a Japanese onslaught. Only when we were physically attacked, did we then seek to protect “our national interests”, which had been under attack for years. Today, if need be, the Commander-in-Chief has an airplane– the North American X15 — that travels at 4520mph. The Commander-in-Chief has to understand the implications of using that plane in an offensive strategic manner. Not that it travels so very fast and far and can carry deadly weapons, but if employed, there will be repercussions that follow. Strategic nuances. Every international action, by any nation, motivates a reciprocal response. And to understand those crucial dynamics, a leader (a Commander-in-Chief) must be able to read beyond the headlines, beyond the headnote rules, beyond those who he mimics and beyond simplistic bravado.
Strategy (not logistics) is not learned overnight. To understand the nuances of strategy takes patience and a learning curve. Strategy is not a game of darts but could reasonably be compared to a long, thoughtful game of chess between grand masters. A commandeer-in-chief is a person who should have an understanding of the chess board and its control. Although it is imperative that she calls upon the experts for guidance, it is the President that makes the ultimate decisions and equally important takes responsibility if they should fail. President Carter failed in his dealing with Iran and the American hostages; Clinton understood Bosnia and Kosovo in what was Yugoslavia; Trump belittles those in the military unless he is using them as political props, and President Truman said that the buck stops with him.
President Trump is hiding in the dugout.