Commentary: Obama and military control | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Obama and military control

Aug 28, 2010

In 1964, when Mr. Akin and I were 17, the movie "Seven Days in May" was released. Starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, it is the story of an attempted military coup in the United States following the president signing a treaty with the then Soviet Union. While the movie is not considered a classic, it may have had as profound an effect on the thinking of presidents and members of Congress as any film over the past 60 years. John Kennedy never lived to see the movie, but he read the novel and believed that the scenario it described could actually occur in the United States.

I bring this up because the question of civilian control of the military is at the heart of examining the relationship between President Obama or any other commander-in-chief and the military. A number of American presidents seem to have been intimidated by the military; others have lived in fear of being perceived as unwilling to threaten or actually use military force.

Mr. Akin has served on the House Armed Service Committee for a number of years and is far more facile in describing military systems than I am. However, we are talking about a base military budget of $533.8 billion for the fiscal year ending this Sept. 30. In addition, the Pentagon has access to black budget military spending for special programs, which is not listed as federal spending and is not included in published military spending figures. No matter how well Mr. Akin may do his homework as a member of the committee, there is no way that he can wrap his head around all issues ranging from weapons effectiveness, procurement, personnel issues, military readiness.

When we deal with anything as large as the military budget, four key elements are necessary to maximize our ability to render sound decisions.

First, we need to recognize the limitations of our knowledge.

Second, we need to know who to call upon to share their knowledge and insight into specific issues with us.

Third, we need to sift through the information that we receive from these experts. This includes assessing the credibility of the expert, both in terms of his or her critical thinking skills as well as whether he or she is representing a vested interest with something to gain in the debate.

Finally, we need to question people who are good thinkers but who may not be familiar with the specific issues. It is these individuals who are most likely to think outside the box; to raise pertinent questions; and to suggest solutions that may not be seen by most others.

John F. Kennedy learned the hard way about trusting the "experts" with regard to the Bay of Pigs; Lyndon Johnson was repeatedly burned by expert estimations as to how many troops would be needed in Vietnam, and George Bush believed that when American troops arrived in Baghdad they would be treated as liberators and showered with rose petals.

Because I am neither soliciting nor accepting contributions in my campaign, no military contractor or "think thank" has any special hold on my perspectives. If elected, I will try to gather and assimilate as much information as I possibly can about military issues. I will seek a wide range of perspectives.

Regardless, there are several principles that must be protected, mostly ones that President Obama has articulated and his administration is implementing.

1. Civilian control of the military.

2. That America has the military strength to protect itself and defend its vital interests.

3. That no man or woman will be deployed without equipment that gives them maximum safety.

4. No expense should be spared in ensuring the finest medical care for all members of the military.

5. The Veterans Administration shall be funded to provide comprehensive care to those who have served the country in any conflict.

6. Mental health issues (including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) will receive the same attention and resources as other injuries and illnesses.

7. "Don't ask; don't tell" should be repealed. While I believe that this policy was an excellent transition step by the Clinton administration, we must eliminate any vestige of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

I will approach military issues as I would any other; seeking information from many and considering the impact of any decision on all concerned. I will try to be cognizant of the "law of unintended consequences" because I know how unforeseen events have tripped up even the best of presidents. The consequences of mistakes in foreign policy and the use of or failure to use military power poses the greatest threat we face. This is why I will spare no effort to utilize critical thinking skills to render wise decisions regarding military policy.

To read an article by incumbent Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town & Country, click here

Editor's Note: Arthur Lieber has been a donor to the Beacon.

Arthur Lieber, a Democrat, is running for the 2nd district congressional race. This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.