Burning Issues: Protect Civilian Control of the Military

The principle of a civilian-run military – a military answerable to a democratically elected president and Congress – has proven vital to the health of American democracy. But retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the George W. Bush administration, explains that this fundamental principle is under threat – one more issue to consider when choosing the next president.

The alternative, Wilkerson says, is a military only answerable to its own needs for more military conquests and the money to fund those conquests – and willing to defy the civilian leadership to push their agenda.

What does a president do when the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the national security leadership descend on him or her and say “you’ve got to go kill people in the name of the United States, in the name of freedom, democracy and everything else,” Wilkerson asks. It makes a difference whether a presidential candidate says that he or she will defer to military leadership or exercise independent judgement based on his or her principled understanding of the best interests of the American people and their security.

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