Rosa Brooks writes: Politicians have always sought to associate themselves with military glory, with mixed results. (Think Michael Dukakis and the tank, or George W. Bush’s flight suit and “Mission accomplished.”) Barack Obama’s no exception: Virtually all his major national security speeches have been made in military settings, from West Point to the National Defense University. The military is, far and away, the most trusted public institution in the United States, so it’s no surprise that politicians like to associate themselves with it. If political candidates could wear live service members as lapel pins, I’m sure they’d do so.
But the “Commander in Chief Forum” brought the ickiness to a new level. Sponsored by NBC and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the event invited each presidential candidate to make the case that she or he is “better qualified to serve as America’s next commander in chief” before an audience of veterans and military personnel. The tenor of the publicity made it sound like an audition: “Vets size up Clinton, Trump,” proclaimed NBC.
Why even hold an election? Why not just let NBC’s specially selected audience of veterans pick the next president?
Trump clearly saw the event as something between an audition and a popularity contest. “Eighty-eight generals and admirals endorsed me today,” he proudly informed NBC host Matt Lauer, several times, even going so far as to take the list out of his suit-jacket pocket. Clinton’s campaign quickly counterattacked, proffering its own list of 95 generals endorsing the Democratic candidate.
As my FP colleagues Kori Schake and Peter Feaver have written recently, such partisan endorsements by former military officials are growing more frequent and risk turning the military into even more of a political football than it already is. “Such political endorsements contribute to toxic civil-military relations,” writes Feaver. They “damage … the norm of a nonpartisan military that has served our country well.”
But I find it hard to blame veterans and retired military leaders for becoming more partisan. To my mind, the problem isn’t that former military personnel sometimes take very public and very partisan positions (they are still citizens, after all, and entitled to speak and vote their conscience) — the problem is that the media and the public actively encourage this partisanship by treating military personnel as political sages. They’re not. [Continue reading…]