Bandow: Should a patriot serve reckless leaders?

Doug Bandow

Former governor and potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee issued a clarion call for American young people not to join the military if he or virtually any Republican wins the presidency in 2016. Well, that’s not exactly what he said. But it was the obvious implication of his remarks.

Huckabee declared: “I’d wait a couple of years, until we got a new commander-in-chief.” He was upset about religious issues, but he inadvertently raised a far more important issue: Should Americans join the military if the next commander-in-chief of the armed services is an irresponsible war-hawk?

Patriotic young men and women want to serve their country and better themselves. But with the U.S. constantly at war joining is a life or death decision, dependent on the judgment of whoever sits in the Oval Office.

There is much to criticize in President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, the president apparently is thoughtful and thus reluctant to loose the dogs of war.

In contrast, ever-angry 2008 presidential candidate John McCain urges war in virtually every circumstance. He never thinks about the consequences of bombing or invading another nation.

President George W. Bush demonstrated a different set of faults. His decision to invade Iraq was disastrous.

As a consequence, more than 4,500 American service members died needlessly. New enemies and enemy organizations were created, such as the Islamic State. Iran was greatly empowered, the same Iran that most of the current GOP presidential candidates believe should be bombed. It is a miracle—or a testament to so many Americans’ deep patriotism—that anyone enlisted while Bush was president.

The 2016 contenders are almost all worse than President Obama. Three outliers, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and former Sen. Jim Webb, take a more nuanced and restrained approach to foreign policy, though not all their positions are consistent. Three unclear players, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former governors Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley so far have not committed themselves or have given conflicting signals.

The other contenders appear more interested in promoting ideology than addressing reality. For instance, Hillary Clinton has spent most of her political life as a hawk. As First Lady she advocated military action in the Balkans.

As senator, Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq war, the most foolish, counterproductive foreign policy decision by the U.S. government in decades. As secretary of state, Clinton was a constant advocate of more war. The Libyan debacle belongs to her. Observed neocon intellectual Robert Kagan: “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.”

Anyone serving under her should recognize the risks of being sent into another foolish, counterproductive war.

However, most of the Republicans are no better. Some are a good deal worse. Lindsey Graham appears likely to run in order to promote a policy of constant war. If Graham was president members of the armed services could expect to spend most years overseas occupying other nations.

John Bolton is another potential contender whose foreign policy is mainly intervention, preferably war. The only mistake with Iraq, he argued, was not taking out Saddam Hussein sooner. Rather than attempting to find a negotiated solution in Iran, he wrote: “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” Sen. Marci Rubio has endorsed every war since his election in 2010 and threatens to attack Iran.

A gaggle of governors—Scott Walker, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal—as well as Huckabee generally have been attempting to outflank each other with hawkish pronouncements. They have backed every war or potential war and denounced President Obama as weak. It is hard to know what they would do in any particular instance, but taken at their word they likely would send military personnel into combat for reasons minor or even frivolous.

Huckabee is right. Americans should consider the commander-in-chief before joining the military. Which would disqualify him and most of the other presidential contenders.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.