I got to know General Wesley Clark when we both served as members of a commission studying how best to connect the dots, how to use information for national security without violating privacy and other rights. The commission was put together by the Markle Foundation, and met in Aspen, Colorado and Washington, DC, among other places. There were day long deliberations and the requisite cocktail hour and elaborate dinners. In short, a chance to get to know those you spend time with.
I am telling you all this because I want to make it clear that my heart did not go pitter patter when I heard Clark's name mentioned as a presidential candidate -- not because of some kind of bias against generals, but because it became clear to me that he isn't a politician; he is very much a straight shooter. We need people like him who speak the truth, without beating around the bush, if you get my drift. Hence, I am particularly troubled by all those who jumped down Clark's throat when he pointed out that the fact that McCain was a prisoner of war and that his plane was shot down is not necessarily a preparation for being a commander-in-chief.
This is a campaign in which the Internet is systematically loaded with all kind of smears, lies, half-lies, and misquotes about the presidential candidates. The editorial writers, the talking heads on the tube, and other such public voices have not broken out in a chorus demanding that such dishonesty stop. They assume that each side will correct the other, and somehow the facts will bubble up. It is all part of free speech, they say. But where do they get the nerve and find the audacity to censor Clark for speaking the truth? After all nobody is claiming that McCain's limited and particular military experience has anything to do with being commander-in-chief. Fire away, General Clark.
By the way, I am not sure that military experience of any kind makes for a good president. Bill Clinton kept the country out of war and made it prosper for eight years, despite the fact that he had no more military experience than Obama and was rather uncomfortable around generals.
Indeed, the whole terminology is misleading. We do not want the commander-in-chief, the president, to be a military person. We want a civilian authority to lead the country and order around the military. This alone is a good reason why we should elect someone who is not "a military man" and leave the retired generals to speak truth from the side lines.
Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University. He served in the military for 3 years. For more discussion see Security First (Yale University Press 2007) www.securityfirstbook.com and My Brother's Keeper (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2003). To contact him, write email@example.com
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