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Military experience not (necessarily) needed

Nick Fickling

Sen. John McCain has attacked Sen. Barack Obama as being less qualified, and prepared, to be president because he has no military service, recently saying “[I] will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

The Obama camp has begun attacking McCain’s strong suit ” his national security credentials ” questioning McCain’s stance on benefits for veterans, and his “Bush III” approach to Iraq and foreign policy generally.

McCain’s recent statement: “I am running for the office of commander-in-chief. That is the highest privilege in this country, and it imposes the greatest responsibilities” stresses commander-in-chief, and ties his bid for the presidency to a belief that his military service somehow makes him more suited for the job than “civilian” Obama.

Is that belief justified? Should military experience be a prerequisite for holding presidential office? Does it really matter whether Obama has military service or not?

Abraham Lincoln never put on uniform, and yet did rather well in time of war. JFK, who took us into Vietnam, was a WWII veteran and Reagan, who ended the Cold War, only wore a uniform in movies. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern here. Analyzing what a president needs to do the job and seeing how well Obama and McCain stack up against that is probably more useful than a food fight over military service.

Presidents lead us into war, during war and in the phase that no president likes ” unless it is a resounding victory ” the exit from a war. Presidents make life-or -death decisions that affect us all, often being forced to choose between equally unacceptable options that are conceptually and technically complex, and for which there is no clear solution.

Such decision-making requires an ability to absorb and understand a great deal of information in a short timeframe. It requires a person of high intelligence and is not the sort of job that lends itself to the “just decide things on gut feeling” type of personality. It demands a person who can focus on the important and dismiss the trivial, and listen to briefings with an open mind and not reach a final conclusion before a decision is required. It requires a decisive individual who understands that although doing nothing is a decision that may appear the best course, doing something is often important merely to maintain confidence and prevent a crisis from becoming a disaster.

The trouble is that human frailties can get in the way, and politics and ego can win over honesty and sound judgement. LBJ in the mid-1960s acknowledged in private that Vietman was probably un-winnable, but that pulling out would make him the first president to lose a war. The inevitable debacle was merely delayed and many died unnecessarily. This is why character is so important.

We should look at how McCain and Obama take criticism, admit and learn from mistakes, absorb information and conduct themselves. It seems McCain is intolerant, aggressive, convinced he is right, and not bright enough to understand economics 101 or the subtle diffences between Sunni and Shiite. He graduated close to the bottom of his intake at Anapolis, is old by presidential standards, and is admired for his service to his country. Obama we gather is pleasant, unflustered, of even temper, extremely bright and speaks and writes well. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School and was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He has some baggage from past associations and can’t bowl.

The choice is yours!

Nick Fickling is retired from the British military and lives in the Vail Valley. E-mail him at fickling@vail.net or editor@vailtrail.com.


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