Yes, folks, another Republican debate is on tap for our entertainment tomorrow night – the second straight session on foreign policy – and it would be great to hear whether the gang agrees with something radical that Rick Perry said on Saturday night. Something that has been overlooked these past 36 hours, given the media’s focus on the hapless “super”-committee. A Perry utterance that was historically ignorant as well as unconstitutional.
During a “family values” forum in Iowa, Perry basically rejected the Founding Fathers’ decree that the civilian president shall have the final say in wartime. Notwithstanding the Article II provision that establishes the president as commander-in-chief, Perry contended Saturday night that the military should have the final say.Referring to the commanders in the field, Perry said: “For us to micromanage them, in a civilian way, without their commanders being truly in charge, is absolutely irresponsible, and as commander-in-chief of this country, I will not let it happen.”It’s tempting at this point to simply ignore whatever Perry says, since his odds of actually becoming commander-in-chief are now roughly equivalent to Ron Paul’s, but this issue is worth exploring. A number of Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have contended lately that a president (or, more specifically, this particular president) should “listen to the commanders in the field” and accede to whatever the commanders decide. But Perry – by contending that the commanders should be “truly in charge” without being overseen “in a civilian way” – has now gone one step further in seeking to cast the principle in stone.I suppose we should expect no less from a guy who is so historically clueless that he thinks Texas has the right to secede from the union despite an 1869 U.S. Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Maybe they didn’t teach him any U.S. history at Texas A & M. Or perhaps he was AWOL on the days when the profs brought up the Civil War and the Korean War, because Perry appears to be at war with our history.If Perry’s suggestion had been in force during the early phase of the Civil War, if Abe Lincoln had allowed Union Gen. George McClellan to be “truly in charge” without any supervision “in a civilian way,” then we might never have won the war. McClellan, the top guy in the field, was notorious for dragging his feet and refusing to engage the enemy. He was so sure of his strategy that he spurned Lincoln’s demands to fight more aggressively. At times he even put out peace feelers to Confederate leaders without informing Lincoln. But that was the least of it. McClellan was so opposed to Lincoln’s military and political aims that he slapped down the president in a letter: “A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present armies,” and make recruitment “almost hopeless.”In the end, of course, Lincoln yanked McClellan from his command. Or, as Perry would put it, Lincoln micromanaged. Question for Perry at the debate tomorrow night: Would he have allowed McClellan to be “truly in charge?” And would his rivals on stage have done the same?Similarly, if Perry’s way had held sway during the early phase of the Korean War, if President Truman had allowed supreme Pacific commander Douglas MacArthur to be “truly in charge” (as MacArthur desired, given his vocal disdain for Truman, whom he called “that Jew in the White House”), then we might have wound up fighting a land war in Asia. MacArthur insisted on invading communist North Korea, and he assured a worried Truman that the Red Chinese would never intervene. Truman signed off reluctantly, MacArthur invaded the North…whereupon the Red Chinese flooded over the border and initially decimated the American troops. MacArthur then sought to up the ante by declaring his intention to bomb mainland China.If Truman had merely listened to his commander in the field, and left him “truly in charge, the Korean War would not have been limited to Korea. Instead, Truman yanked MacArthur from his command and sent him home. In an address to the nation, Truman said that he and his civilian advisers had one simple aim: “We are trying to prevent a third World War.” That prevention was imperiled by the commander in the field. Would Rick Perry and any of Republican rivals have preferred that MacArthur remain “truly in charge?”I’d be most curious to hear Romney on this issue, because (surprise!) he has been the most flip-floppy. Even within a single minute. Case in point was an interview he gave on PBS in October. He started out by asserting that if he were president, and the commanders in Afghanistan wanted U.S. troops to remain there until 2014, then of course he would accede to their desire. That’s the flip, but watch for the flop. It comes so fast, you may get whiplash.Romney: “I would listen to the generals, and if that (2014) continues to be the view of the commanders in the field as they assess the capabilities of the Afghan military, then of course I would pursue that course.”Judy Woodruff (moments later): “But isn’t it the role of the president to make his or her own independent judgment about where American troops go? You were saying you would always defer to the generals. Is that – “Romney: “Did I say that? Did I say that, Judy? If I did, let me correct myself. I said I would listen to the generals and receive the input of those who are the commanders in the field, and then I would make the – my own decision.”This guy is spongier than the Pillsbury Doughboy.Rick Perry may be oblivious to history and wrong on the Constitution, but, compared to Romney, he at least is an exemplar of clarity. But so were the Founders, who thought it essential that civilians oversee the military, lest the military be allowed to run amock. In the 1768 words of Samuel Adams, “Even when there is a necessity of the military power within a land, a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful and jealous eye over it.”——-Speaking of the Republican debates, I suggested in my Sunday newspaper column that we can never have enough of them.——-And speaking of the “super”-committee, it has turned out to be as potent as Clark Kent. Gee, what a shock. A true deficit-reduction deal requires greater tax sacrifice from the affluent, but the Republicans still insist on protecting the affluent. This, despite new evidence that 68 percent of Americans favor more tax sacrifice from the affluent. Somehow, the Republicans don’t seem daunted by the unpopularity of their position. Either they are suicidally foolish – or they rightly recognize that the Democrats are famously capable of misplaying a winning hand. I vote for the latter.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1