‘Warrior in chief’ isn’t a good idea

Bob Betzen is a local programmer/analyst and member of the California State Bar Association

As the bloody struggle in Iraq drags on, more Americans are wondering if we’ve gotten ourselves into another Vietnam. In both conflicts, our commander in chief ordered massive troop deployments under questionable pretenses with lukewarm support from the country.

These days, presidents appear to believe that they have the right to invade other countries of their own accord. But when it comes to this most critical decision, the U.S. Constitution is unambiguous: Article 1, Section 8 (11) states: “Congress shall have the power … to declare war.”

In fact, our Founding Fathers despised the trappings of royalty and never intended to create a British-style empire on American soil. Many had grave doubts about how future commanders in chief would use their authority over the military. Patrick Henry thought the newly minted presidency “squinted toward monarchy.” Alexander Hamilton said the commander in chief was no more than the “first general” of the armed forces. They understood the consequences of placing too much power in the hands of one man.

Modern leaders have strengthened presidential powers by using party politics to control legislatures from the Oval Office. The last time Congress actually “declared war” was in 1942. When he chooses to, our commander in chief simply sends the troops into battle while ignoring all opposing views.

Congress, on the other hand, is too large and cumbersome to provide the clear guidance our military needs. It has too many opposing views. The U.S. armed forces should be commanded by a small, elected group.

Successful private organizations are supervised by a board of directors. While the chief executive officer manages day-to-day operations of the company, the directors retain ultimate control. Major investment of human and financial resources requires approval by the full board of directors, based on advice from the CEO. When it comes to direction of the U.S. military, all we’ve got is the CEO.

An elected armed-forces board of directors would promote lasting standards in the use of our military and continuity in our worldwide strategic alliances. Such a group would be less vulnerable to personal distractions and less likely to use overseas deployments as a distraction from domestic political problems.

How much longer can we afford to leave one man in charge of the most powerful military force the world has ever known?