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Presidential candidates lack military experience

Francona: A qualified leader is needed to win the war in Iraq

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  McCain: We are succeeding in Iraq
Jan. 24: At the MSNBC debate in Florida, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., says that a withdrawal from Iraq would mean more causalities for the United States.
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  Obama on future Iraq policies
Jan. 15: At the MSNBC debate in Las Vegas, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., asked Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for support on legislation related to the Bush administration’s future policies in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst
Although the economy has emerged as the key topic for the upcoming presidential elections, the war in Iraq is still an important factor to consider. There's an increasing lack of military service among our elected leaders, from state governments to the U.S. Congress and the presidency.

During the Cold War and the draft, many more leaders had experienced life in the military. Whether one serves in combat or not, service in the armed forces provides invaluable insight into the capabilities and the limitations of the military. In the past, military service was almost mandatory to be considered a viable candidate for political office. That does not appear to be the case today. Approximately one-third of the members of the House and Senate are veterans and the percentage declines after every election.

Rating the current candidates’ experience
Looking at the frontrunners for the 2008 presidency is not comforting. On the Democratic side, neither Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., or Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have served in the armed forces; they both come from a law background. Sen. Clinton has the added stigma of attempting to prohibit military officers from wearing their uniforms in the White House while her husband was president.

On the Republican side, consider the backgrounds of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee; neither has served in the military. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was a career officer in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a captain. As a pilot, he was shot down over North Vietnam, and he was a prisoner of war for more than five years. This means out of the five people most likely to become the next president, only one has ever donned the uniform of their country, let alone heard a shot fired in anger.

When you are responsible for ordering young Americans into harm’s way, or responsible for declaring war, service in the armed forces is a desirable quality. Until you are involved in the massive logistical efforts of moving a fighting force half-way around the world and feel the tension and fear when steel starts flying and people start dying, it's only an academic exercise.

'Win,' not 'end' the war
Hearing Obama and Clinton spew rhetoric about ending the war in Iraq brings me discomfort. I hope those words are just rhetoric, and not resolve. “End the war” is not the phrase they need to use: Instead, they should say how they are going to “win the war.” Promising to “end the war on January 9, 2009” is just what the remaining insurgents and the al-Qaida terrorists in Iraq want to hear. Hold out until then, hope a Democrat wins the election, and victory for the jihad is assured.

Hopefully both Clinton and Obama really mean it when they vow to continue fighting terrorists and insurgents until a phased withdrawal is plausible. Pulling the plug prematurely is not only contrary to our national interests, but dangerous for the troops involved. We should not declare defeat and go home.

Last fall, Obama said that he would leave a residual force to fight terrorists, train the Iraqi army and protect the U.S. Embassy. But that’s what the troops are doing, so let them completely finish that job before you pull the rug out from under them. They have paid too high a price to not be allowed to win.

So, Senators, rather than trite campaign slogans, how about a commitment to an American victory? Do you want to win the war in Iraq or not?

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