Time’s Mark Thompson has an interesting new article entitled “Why Americans Want a Military General in the White House.” It focuses on the political chatter about retired Marine General Jim Mattis as being a possible candidate for President. (General Mattis was the dinner speaker at the 2013 LENS Conference.)
General Mattis has previously discouraged this kind of suggestion, but as Thompson points out, he didn’t flatly rule it out when asked about it recently.
As I’ve said before, I’m a registered independent and as a retired military officer I don’t publicly endorse any candidate, even old friends from another life like General Mattis. Accordingly, here’s how my small contribution to Thompson’s piece appeared:
“As the polls show, Americans overwhelming pick the military as the institution in U.S. society in which they have the most confidence, so it isn’t surprising that some may look to the leaders of that institution to lead the nation as a whole,” says Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general who now heads the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke Law School. They also perceive military officers as largely altruistic and honest, “qualities that many Americans find conspicuously absent from the traditional politicians that they see these days.”
I might put it another way with an additional nuance: despite the rhetoric you may hear, I believe most Americans realize that life in the 21st century requires a sizable government, and they actually yearn for one that works. Consequently, they may be thinking that if you take someone from the organization in which they have the most confidence, that person could also make civilian government work. In other words, this is not about some sort of militarism pervading the public’s psyche, but rather a much more practical desire among the electorate to simply find someone who can get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Of course, not all (or even many) military leaders would have all the right skills for a political office, but history indicates that a few do. The transition can be complicated, however, and Duke University’s own Peter Feaver has some salient remarks about this in the Thompson article. (You may also want to look at this earlier post that in part discusses the paucity of military experience on the resumes of many current and aspiring politicians, and the thoughts about that fact that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey expressed at a February LENS event.)
Thompson’s piece closes with a quote from another friend, retired Army Lt. General Dave Barno: “The realities of a painfully long two-year presidential campaign, the ugly personal attacks on candidates and their families, and the highly-polarized nature of the party primaries are just a few of the reasons that make even considering the idea unpalatable to nearly anyone retired who once wore stars.”
I tend to agree with General Barno, but with as many surprises as this political season has produced, who knows? Anyway, be sure to check out Thompson’s essay.