Part II of the leadership comparison of McCain and Obama
How much of the President of the United States’ job has been in the capacity of Commander in Chief?
To start—but in no way to finish—answering this question, consider this (difficult) picture:
This charts all major military activity of the USA since its birth in 1776. Only wars and conflicts of importance are included; that is, not every use of military force if plotted. For example, Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan, while vastly influential, is not included. The Boxer Rebellion, because it directly used a minimal number of troops, was of tremendous consequence, and so is presented.
The political parties in power at the times of the conflicts are shaded (red for Republican; blue for Democrat; green for Whig; purple for Democrat-Republican; and yellow for Federalist or none). For example, Democrat presidents presided over the beginning of the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Republican presidents were there for the start of the Civil War, Grenada Invasion and both Gulf Wars.
Different wars and conflicts are colored variously, and the lengths of the activities are shown. There has only been one period in American history without major conflict: from roughly 1819 to 1831. Two men were President during this time: James Monroe (1817-1825) and John Qunicy Adams (1825-1829; both were Democratic-Republicans). Of these two men, only Adams did not govern the White House during a time of major military conflict (Monroe managed wars earlier in his administration).
Thus, of the 43 presidents so far, 42 of them had direct command over significant military events. Obviously, the military is in use even when not engaged with the enemy. Presidents regulate the military strategically and tactically, for example as a deterrent. A current instance is the placement of missile-defense batteries in Poland to annoy Russia. And the military cannot spring into action suddenly without adequate training and support in times of peace, tasks which require significant interaction.
Whether or not any conflict on this list was preventable or abhorrent or necessary or just, all of human history suggests it is rational to believe conflict and wars will happen in the future. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise. All this implies the obvious: the president must have adequate capabilities as Commander in Chief as it is very likely he will have to exercise these duties. The stated desires of the occupant of the White House also do not correlate with the occurrence of conflict.
It is true that only Congress has the power to declare outright war. Therefore, you might argue, the President’s role in warmaking is limited. But it is also only Congress who has the power to pass the budget: they control the purse strings. to be consistent you would also have the say the President’s domestic role is similarly limited.
To say that these powers belong to Congress obviously does not, and has not as history has shown, lessened the powers the President has and will have in guiding policy, both foreign and domestic.
Lastly, Obama’s own view on the subject are seen at the end of this video: