It has become a common theme among right-wing politicians and pundits that civilian commanders should ultimately defer to the military when making decisions about wars, such as whether to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq or Afghanistan. This mentality was expressed by, for example, Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) when the congressman said during the debate over the escalation in Afghanistan that “the decision [about escalating] needs to come from people best suited — that’s the generals who are giving recommendations to the administration.”
Last night, during the GOP presidential primary debate, former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney expressed this belief. In response to a question from a retired Navy serviceman about when the U.S. will leave Afghanistan, Romney said that when the troops in Afghanistan come home shouldn’t be a matter of “politics,” but rather be determined by the generals on the ground. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) disagreed, saying that if he was president, he’d be the commander-in-chief and it’s the president that makes the decisions:
ROMNEY: I think we’ve learned some important lessons in our experience in Afghanistan. I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. [...]
KING: Congressman Paul, do you agree with that decision?
PAUL: Not quite. I served five years in the military. I’ve had a little experience. I’ve spent a little time over in the Pakistan/Afghanistan area, as well as Iran. But I wouldn’t wait for my generals. I’m the commander in chief. I make the decisions. I tell the generals what to do. I’d bring them home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a president seeking the consultation and advice of military commanders, who are responsible for executing actions on the ground. However, the president is the commander-in-chief and is responsible for making the final decisions about global strategy and whether or not to continue engaging in a war.