Political Consultants and War Should Never Mix

January 8th, 2014

Although his book won’t officially appear until next week, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates new memoir Duty is already stirring up a lot of discussion across the country.  Evidently, once read in full, Gates’ book will offer no clear political victory for either Republicans or Democrats.  Early indications are that Gates has praise and disapproval for both sides.

On one point, however, he appears to level much deserved criticism at both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  In an excerpt, Gates shares a meeting between Obama and Clinton where he was present and during which Obama and Clinton revealed to one another that their public positions on the Iraq War during the 2008 campaign were driven solely by political concerns.  Throughout the book, Gates shares his general impression that all of Obama’s military decisions resulted primarily from his focused goal of winning reelection in 2012.

Whatever else his book reveals, this piece of information is the biggest takeaway from this latest tell all memoir by a former administration insider.

Today, our nation is kept safe and secure by a volunteer military. They comprise the finest and most effective military force in the world.  As individuals, these fine people could be doing any number of civilian jobs but they choose instead to put their lives on the line by defending our country. It’s unfortunate to imagine that any decision which places their lives at risk could be made based on the pure naked political motivation of a single person.

When making military decisions, looming political campaigns should never be part of the equation.

That doesn’t mean that politics stay out of military determinations altogether.  We have a system where a civilian leader appointed by the president runs the entire military apparatus because at some level politics must enter into the military calculus. The Founders never intended the title Commander-in-Chief to simply be a figurehead.

That’s quite different, however, from what Gates’ book seems to suggest.  Evidently, Obama and Clinton seemed prepared to hide their true opinions from the public in order to gain political advantage on one another in a political campaign. After his election, Obama appears to have made his reelection opportunities a central factor in his military decisions.

For those who might argue that there is nothing wrong with doing this, here’s a simple question.

Would you want to know that you or your loved one was sent into harm’s way in military action simply because of the way political consultants and advisors thought such actions poll tested for a political campaign?  Is it ever morally right to risk other people’s lives for your own political ambition?

Years ago, I worked on a presidential campaign.  I know that every last decision and action is carefully crafted with the goal of achieving victory.  If you’re running for president, that’s the prudent thing to do (to quote George H.W. Bush—sort of).

Still, there must be a line drawn with this method of gaining political advantage and the clearest “red line” (to quote President Obama—sort of) is with our military.

When it comes to the lives of people voluntarily willing to risk everything for each of us, political opportunity shouldn’t ever be a factor or a consideration.  Instead, our Commander-in-Chief should do whatever is clearly in the best interest of the country even if it means he never wins a second term.



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