What if you were called upon to explain the American presidential primary system to a friend from a foreign country? About the only presidential primary guide posts one can offer is to point out that the Democrat contenders run as far Left as they can and the Republican contenders run as far Right as they can.
Of course, once they obtain their party’s nomination, the Democrat and Republican nominees then run as hard as they can for the Center. If these political gyrations are confusing to Americans, just imagine how they must confuse our friends and foes in other nations.
Fortunately, there is not much danger in confusing the American public. We are accustomed to being confused. But sending conflicting messages on foreign and military policy to foreign governments can be dangerous.
For example, the Red Chinese are paying close attention to what the presidential contenders are saying about the future of U.S. relations with Taiwan. Naturally, the Red Chinese want to back the candidate most likely to throw our friends on Taiwan to the Red Chinese wolves.
Russia, which is essentially rudderless until it can evolve a respectable leadership group, is watching our presidential contenders and hoping we elect someone Russia can trust and who will be constructive as Russia continues to flounder around somewhere between communism and capitalism.
Because Russia and some of the former members of the U.S.S.R still possess thousands of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, they constitute an enormous threat to our safety. For example, we have become so dependent on satellites for today’s e-business and e-commerce, that the shoot down of even a handful of key satellites would plunge the world into communications chaos.
If the Democrat-controlled Congress had supported President Reagan’s Star Wars Initiative back in the 1980s, we would, by now, have a missile-defense system that could be used to protect our communications satellites. Now, it may be too late.
So far, the presidential contenders have not said much about foreign and military policy. Instead, they devote virtually their entire campaigns to domestic issues – each trying to out promise the other to please their various domestic constituencies. But when presidential hopefuls do touch on foreign and military affairs, their ignorance of our military and foreign policy apparatus must alarm already confused foreign audiences.
For example, Vice President Al Gore, said that, if elected, he would impose a “litmus test” on anyone he nominated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that would require his nominees to endorse his social policies, period. Such a statement betrays a fundamental ignorance of the role of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Responding to Gore’s rather startling statement, General Charles C. Krulak, a former member of the Joint Chiefs said: “There can be no question in the minds of the American people and those serving in the military that an officer’s nomination and confirmation to serve on the Joints Chiefs of Staff must be based on military experience, military expertise and leadership ability. It cannot be based on support or lack thereof for a current social or political position. As a nation we must never allow our elected leaders to subordinate an issue of national security for the sake of political gain.”
Unfortunately, Al Gore is not alone in failing to understand the role of the Joint Chiefs. Since the end of the draft, fewer and fewer Americans have had military experience. Even worse, very few members of Congress now have first-hand knowledge of military life. Few understand our armed forces have but one mission and that is to be so tough, skilled and combat-ready that they can apply overwhelming force on the battlefield to kill or capture the enemy. Some think the military exists to offer free maternity care for pregnant soldiers and sailors.
Hopefully, both parties will pick nominees who understand foreign and military affairs. Our foreign friends hope so as well. Our foreign enemies hope not.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today.