10/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin is No Commander-in-Chief

Republicans tout Governor Sarah Palin's experience as commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard as preparation to be commander in chief of the United States.

Let me tell you what a Governor who is commander-in-chief does -- or more accurately, does not do. She does not command.

I was commander-in-chief of the Vermont National Guard when I was governor of Vermont from 1985 to 1991. I flew in a helicopter when I visited the troops at Camp Drum where they were doing their summer training each year. I attended ceremonial events and had my picture taken with the troops, just like Governor Palin. That was it.

I had zero authority over the troops. I even tested my power during my term of office when I objected to the Vermont National Guard being sent to Honduras for training. I was responding to many of my constituents who objected to the guard being deployed there because they feared it would heighten U.S. participation in the strife in Nicaragua.

I was promptly told, "No way." To make certain that no Governor tried to be "commander-in-chief" of the national guard the Congress passed a law in 1987, called, the Montgomery amendment which states "that a governor cannot withhold consent with regard to active duty outside of the United States." In 2007, governors' powers were whittled down further by the John Warner Defense Administration Act: "the Governor of a state is no longer the sole commander-in-chief of the National Guard during emergencies within the state. The President of the United States will now be able to take control of a state's National Guard units without the governor's consent."

Governor Palin may have some qualities that would enable her to perform as Vice President, but being commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard is not one of them.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

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