Some people have been surprised by General Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama. How could Powell, who served in several Republican administrations, endorse a Democrat over John McCain, a storied war hero?
As a lifelong military man, I too will be casting my vote for Barack Obama on Election Day. I deeply respect John McCain's service to our country. I admire his bravery as a prisoner of war, described by a fellow prisoner as similar to that demonstrated by hundreds of other U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam.
The fields of foreign and national security policy, however, are John McCain's disqualifying weaknesses, in my view. McCain has demonstrated clearly that he is a dedicated ideologue when it comes to foreign policy, unwilling to consider opinions or even credible evidence contrary to his preconceived notions.
His temperament, marked not only by impatience but also by rude and sometimes hostile behavior, would discourage advisors from bringing to his attention views that might not be consistent with his preconceptions. A President with this combination of significant shortcomings would be a dangerous commander-in-chief, posing an unacceptable risk to the security of the nation.
McCain has adopted, promoted, and sustained the position of the so-called neo-conservatives and ultra-nationalists who believe that the United States should capitalize on American military superiority to spread democracy abroad. Overthrowing the Iraqi government was seen as the first step in transforming the politics of the Middle East by converting governments in the region to democracies friendly to the United States and its interests. McCain reportedly has bragged in private conversations that he was the first neo-con.
McCain has been a consistent advocate of employing military force, as well as diplomatic and economic measures, to overthrow the governments of non-democratic states. In his 2000 presidential primary campaign, he promoted a strategy of "rogue state rollback." He has served as a long-term chair of the Republican Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting democracy in closed societies, even though most experts agree that viable democratic reforms cannot be imposed but must be generated locally.
Consistent with his ideological predispositions, McCain has gone so far as to advocate expelling Russia from the G-8, an organization of leading industrial nations established to coordinate international economic policies, in order "to improve their behavior" while adding Brazil and India to the organization but excluding China. This obviously would result in the alienation of Russia and China, resulting in a confrontational foreign policy rather than encouraging their cooperation on vital issues of international security and their integration into the international community.
The importance of McCain's temperament, should he become President, is apparently regarded as too politically incorrect to discuss. By his own admission, however, McCain has "a temper, to state the obvious, which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public's." Of greater significance, he also has written: "Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint."
In matters of national security and foreign policy, however, it is the nation that will have to live with the consequences of McCain's temper and haste should he be elected President of the United States.
No President can be conversant with all the problems and issues he or she will face. More important than a specific set of experiences are high intelligence, good judgment, a steady and even temperament, and a willingness to consider options presented by advisors who have been selected for their expertise.
A few months ago, I met in a small group with Senator Obama in his office to discuss a contentious security issue. People with different, even opposite, views had been invited to attend. Obama listened carefully and asked penetrating questions, confirming my observations concerning his intelligence and temperament.
I believe that Barack Obama possesses the requisite qualifications to serve far more effectively as President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the U.S. military than his opponent, John McCain.
Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (U.S. Army, ret.) served in both Korea and Vietnam and is a former president of National Defense University. He is a member of the Vets for Obama steering committee.