Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Enough with the Generals and Admirals as VP Candidates

So, HRC's folks had to name Admiral (ret) Stavridis as a possible VP choice after Trump's folks listed a bunch of generals.  Lovely.  To be clear, I am a fan of Stavridis--he wrote an excellent blurb for the NATO book!  So, why do I find the idea of nominating VPs or Presidential candidates based success in a military career (reaching the highest ranks) so problematic?
  • Folks always list the generals who did great: Washington, Ike, Teddy Roosevelt.  Yeah, but those men were exceptional in every sense of the word.  There have been plenty of generals (not any admirals!) who have become President who, um, were not so good: Andrews Jackson and Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Harrison, Taylor, Garfield....  So, we have confirmation bias, eh?  How about about a President Tommy Franks?  Yeah, I didn't think so.
  • While war is politics by other means, generals are not necessarily gifted in political skilz.  Getting ahead in the military and doing well in politics are not identical, and the skills don't always translate.  One realm requires obedience and authority, the other requires persuasion and coalition building.  
  • We live in a time of deep distrust of institutions.  Picking military officers because the US military is the most respected institution is not a good move.  It sends signals that we need more authoritarian leaders (such as Mattis?), that the politicians cannot be trusted with key spots, and on and on.  Just a very bad message to send.
  • As General Kelly opined very recently, it poisons civil-military relations as Presidents will have to worry whether the advice they are getting is the best military advice (what will advance the US's interests in a particular conflict/crisis at less risk/costs) or is it the best political advise for the officer making the recommendations?
  • Military officers are overly fond of Robert Kaplan's work, and that should be disqualifying on its own.  

I am not saying that military experience is a bad thing or disqualifying.  I am saying that nominating a former senior military officer to one of the highest offices (a heartbeat away) is a simple idea, but with complex and quite negative consequences.  I gained a great deal of respect for many military officers in my time in the Pentagon, although I did tend to lose respect for the folks at the tippy top (Myers/Pace).   Oh, and while most of the blame for how the wars of the 21st century have gone lays with the politicians, the US military leadership has not quite been super-swell.

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