commander in chief

A President’s Most Important Constitutional Responsibility — Obama’s Biggest Failure

Barack Obama is commander-in-chief of the American military.  This is an American president’s most important responsibility of the various duties delineated in the Constitution for the chief executive (Section II, Clause 1: “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States…).  But when it comes to military matters President Obama never seems to have his mind or his heart in the game. Further, his attitude toward the military seems to range from disinterested to hostile.  President Obama’s attitude toward the military raises an interesting constitutional question: Should a president be allowed to serve who does not accept, endorse, and believe in the duties established for that office in the Constitution?

President Obama’s speeches on topics such as Iraq, Afghanistan, ISIS, or Iran are delivered in the bored, detached voice of a man describing paint drying.  A Marine NCO snaps him a respectful, perfectly executed salute and the president responds by casually waving a coffee cup at him. Several months ago the president bestowed the Medal of Honor on an American hero in the Oval Office.  He might as well have been handing out a door prize at a chamber of commerce meeting.  What should have been a solemn, respectful, and moving ceremony conducted by the President of the United States on behalf of a grateful nation had the feel of an unwelcome obligation to be gotten over with as quickly as possible.

President Obama’s apparent disdain for the military raises questions that are even more fundamental than does his record of failures on military matters.  Like Obama, Jimmy Carter had a lackluster record on military matters, but one never got the impression that he was scornful of the military.  However, President Obama’s apparent contempt for all things military is not just discouraging, it is dangerous.  For example, his attitude when military personnel who are killed by terrorists on American soil—a tragedy that happens with unfortunate regularity these days—is to minimize, to refuse to refer to the culprits as terrorists, and to call the incidents “workplace” violence instead of terrorism.  What he does not do is rally the country around the victims and their families, visit with the grieving families, or speak at the funerals of the warriors who lives were taken from them by a terrorist.  He also refuses to allow the victims to be awarded citations (one does not earn a citation if the incident in question is “workplace violence”).

For example, four Marines and a Sailor were recently murdered by Muhammad Youssef, a Muslim terrorist.  Barack Obama’s response was to assure the public that there would be a thorough investigation, as if that statement of the obvious is supposed to somehow reassure the families who lost loved ones or the families who worry that they might at some point in the future because of the president’s tepid response.  Because he is so scornful of the military, terrorists and not afraid to attack Americans, even on American soil.  In fact, they are not even hesitant.

President Obama’s only interest in the military seems to be how much he can cut from the defense budget.  To this president, the military is little more than a convenient source of ready cash that can be diverted to entitlement programs.  Since taking office, Barack Obama has targeted the defense budget for cuts so large they border on the irresponsible while at the same time expanding costly entitlement programs and adding expensive government regulations.  It’s as if Barack Obama came into the presidency determined to focus on domestic programs while ignoring foreign affairs and military matters, a fact that at least partially explains the foreign relations and military disasters that have accumulated on his watch.

He is attitude borders on lackadaisical when talking about military matters, but when talking about entitlement programs, reforming healthcare, government bailouts, new federal regulations, the redistribution of wealth, how Islam is a peace-loving religion, the supposed failings of George W. Bush, heartless Republicans, gun control, or the socialization of America’s economy Barack Obama can be animated to the point of exuberance.  The president calls to mind a football coach who is so focused on one aspect of the game that he ignores all of the others.  Teams with this type of coach lose, and that is what’s happening to America on the global stage: we are losing.  Frankly, if Barack Obama were a football coach he would have been fired by now.

All presidents come into office with an agenda, a plan for their presidency.  However, most soon find that their plan has been overtaken by events.  Few people come to appreciate the wisdom behind the adage, man plans and God laughs, more quickly than American presidentsInvariably events that were not expected intervene in ways that change more than the new president’s plan; they change the very character of his presidency.  How presidents respond to these unplanned, unexpected events determines the success or failure of their presidencies.  Just ask President George W. Bush.  The plan for his presidency up to September 11, 2001 and the reality of his presidency post 9-11 are worlds apart.  Suffice it to say that George W. Bush did not come into the presidency expecting to spend his time in office fighting a war on terrorism.

It is obvious that Barack Obama came into the presidency with a plan—albeit a flawed plan—for transforming not just America’s economy but our entire economic system.  Putting aside the utter failure of his domestic policies, suffice it to say that he pretty much ignored foreign relations in favor of domestic politics, and America is now paying the price for his neglect.  It’s as if President Obama thinks he can simply choose to deal with the issues he is interested in and ignore the rest.  Unfortunately, it is the issues he chooses to ignore that are putting America at risk and Americans in harm’s way.  Not only is Barack Obama a commander-in-chief, he is a dangerous commander-in-chief.  As long as he occupies the White House, America is at risk.  This is why it is so important to elect presidents who are committed to the duties set forth for them in the Constitution.  When presidents ignore those duties, America pays the price.

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Jacob "Jake" Steele

Dr. Jacob Steele is a professor of Political Science and the author of numerous books and articles in this field.

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