Richard Clarke: Presidents, Not 'Commanders on the Ground,' Decide
Posted by Jacob Stokes
Former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke has a piece in the New York Times today that explains why it’s a core part of the president’s job to exert control over the military. Clarke explains how this imperative is by design: the president is in charge of grand strategy and the intersection of foreign and domestic affairs – and the military understands this:
There’s no doubt that the United States has the most professional military officer corps in the world, and certainly the one with the most combat experience. Part of their training and professionalism is, however, a deep-seated understanding of the American tradition of “civilian control of the military.” They know that Article II of the Constitution says that the elected civilian president is the commander in chief of the armed forces.
But civilian control isn’t just a matter of law; it’s also a matter of effectiveness. Being on the ground may provide for an understanding of local circumstances, but it does not necessarily offer insight into what is best in the long run for our nation. We want our president to think about that larger context, and to make decisions that take as much as possible into account.
Clarke goes on to explain how this concept should inform our choice about who becomes president:
Of course, we choose our presidents in part because of how we think they will handle crises, how they will see the bigger picture, the greater good, the historic moment. We expect them to exercise their own judgment after listening to military and civilian advisers, not just to do what the “commanders on the ground” want.
In countries like Pakistan the president cannot tell the military what to do. Not so in America. But by offering to cede automatically to the will of military commanders, some presidential candidates are telling voters in advance that there is an important part of the president’s job that they are unwilling to perform.
The whole thing is worth reading. You can find it here.