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Are Any of the 2016 Presidential Candidates Ready to be Commander-in-Chief?

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Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.

John UbaldiBy John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security

Article Two Section II of the U.S. Constitution states, “the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.” That begs the question: do the 2016 presidential candidates understand what this means, and the issues they will confront if elected president?

Throughout this presidential race, the candidates seem only to play to the base of their party without any thought about what their statements or polices mean in the grand scheme of things – nor do they level with the American people on what awaits them from January 20th, 2017 onward.

Presidential candidates on both sides of the political spectrum speak in glowing reference to the destructive power of the U.S. military, and as it relates to the defeat of ISIS and global terrorism, but it’s always in the realm of current events; none of the candidates articulates a long-term strategy.

Often the military option is the first course of action without fully understanding the axiom articulated by 19th century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz; “We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried with other means.”

Republican and Democratic Views of War

Republican candidates Donald Trump, and Senator Ted Cruz, promote the use of the military to defeat ISIS, but both failed to understand the other aspect of Clausewitz’s military treatise, “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

Democrats continually mention that we need to defeat ISIS, but continually relegate the Iraq War authorization vote of 2002, and pivot back to domestic policies.

Heather Hurlburt, director of the New Models of Policy Change project at New America stated, “When questions of war and security arise, GOP consultants tell their candidates, “Talk tough!” and Democratic consultants advise, “Pivot to the economy.”

In the various debates, candidates talk tough about what they will do or have done with regard to terrorism, but none of the aspirants running for president have any idea what war is actually like, because none have served in the military or have any connection to the military.

Ioannis Koskinas,  a senior fellow at New America and CEO of the Hoplite Group, also a retired U.S. Air Force veteran with a 20-year career in special operations stated, “Very few presidential candidates have actually gotten a real glimpse of this seemingly unending war. Even worse, some leaders think they have stared war in the face because they had a congressional delegation trip forward or received some coffins at Dover, or even thanked some trooper for their service…Never have so few been held accountable for such epic failure to win our nations wars. Worse, in the absence of a sound strategy, I find it fascinating that the prevailing winds point not to looking for winning ways but less damaging losing exit ramps. Is the future of war turning conflict into less of contest of wills and people and more into a plea bargaining agreement?”

What do the candidates really know about war and its effects?

Thomas Ricks a senior advisor on national security at New America’s International Security Program and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writer, comments, “We now have a generation coming of age that has never known the country not at war. I don’t know what that means, but the more I think about it, the more I think we should consider civil-military relations as one of the questions facing us as we consider the future of American war.”

The real question Thomas Ricks should be asking is why is the American population so disconnected from war itself?  Far too often we hear the adage, “America is tired of war,” but the only sacrifice being made is by a select few that serve in the military itself.

As the presidential campaign continues, both Democrats and Republican candidates issue statements and policy pronouncements playing to their base, unfortunately they don’t understand how their words play out overseas.

In this same vain, the presidential candidates often listen to political foreign policy experts who gained their knowledge in the halls of Washington, with little understanding to history or the world around them.

Former Retired U.S. Army Colonel Peter R. Mansoor, and executive officer to General David Petraeus in Iraq, commented in an article published at the Hoover Institution entitled, Why Can’t America Win Its Wars?:

“Americans have forgotten why World War II ended so well. Yes, American armed forces triumphed over the forces of fascism, sending Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo into the dustbin of history. But military victory alone did not ensure that Germany, Italy, and Japan would emerge from conflict as liberal democracies committed to prosperity and human rights at home and a liberal world order abroad. It was, rather, the presence of US military forces, economic aid, and a political commitment from American policymakers to rebuild and restore these nations that ensured an enduring peace. Perhaps ordinary Americans may be forgiven for ignoring this reality, but senior political and military leaders should know better—that is, if they read and understand history, which regrettably all too many do not.”

The Significance of DIME

As the presidential candidates articulate their foreign policy approach, it is always how they would or would not use the military, but each candidate fails to understand the recent military term of DIME (diplomacy, information, military and economics).

DIME was the Department of Defense signaling to policy makers that the military option should not be the first option to other elements of U.S. national power; all other components must be included first.

In time, DIME(FIL) included financial, intelligence and law enforcement to be part of the operational environment, but the unfortunate aspect remains that the candidates are never challenged to state their strategic foreign policy vision.

Unfortunately, the presidential candidates are forgetting the basic military treatise of Sun Tzu in the Art of War, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Without this in mind, the 2016 presidential candidates will continue to repeat the mistakes of the past at the expense of U.S. national security.

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