Op Ed
September 26, 2008

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President Sarah Palin: Commander in Chief

by Beth F. Coye

(This op ed first appeared in the Ashland, OR Daily Tidings on Sept. 16. It is reprinted here with permission.)

Senator McCain constantly describes himself as a military man who always places "Country First." Unfortunately, his first big decision as a presidential nominee puts "risky decision-making first" and "country second."

As a woman who served my country as a naval officer for 21 years and taught American Government and International Relations at several universities, I am astonished by John McCain's vice presidential choice, Governor Sarah Palin. Palin, who governs .2 percent of the U.S. population, has neither foreign policy experience nor knowledge of international leaders and countries.

Let's put McCain's decision in a military context: Captain John McCain, a retired naval officer, understands our military personnel system. Would he thrust someone who is the commanding officer of a small shore-based unit and who has no seagoing experience into the position of executive officer of a Navy carrier or Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? These top military jobs directly compare with one of the two highest offices in our political system.

The military's personnel system never allows a Navy lieutenant to fill an admiral's billet or an Army/Air Force/Marine captain to fill a general's billet. Our political system, however, permits presidential nominees to select anyone they want as a running mate — whether or not the person has the requisite skill sets or experience.

Let us remind ourselves that in the tradition of U.S. civil-military relations, the Constitution names the president as commander in chief. I find it unthinkable that someone with Sarah Palin's minimal resume might someday be president or acting president, and be called upon to approve or disapprove recommendations by our most senior military officers (e.g., the Unified Commanders or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs). Sarah Palin has likely rarely read an NIE (National Intelligence Estimate)!

I have worked hard since the late '60s for the rights of women in the U.S. military and in America, and I believe Sarah Palin's nomination insults women who have fought for equality and fairness in job opportunities. This action also disrespects senior, qualified Republican women who were passed over by Senator McCain in favor of an unqualified, junior woman.

The Palin choice — an act of reverse sex discrimination — patently represents exploitation of women for political purposes. In this regard, that Sarah Palin herself chooses to accept the offer mystifies me and many others. Does she not realize that she is ill prepared for the office and is being used by the Republican Party?

Captain McCain demeans and diminishes the offices of the vice president and president by selecting such an unqualified person. His decision demonstrates a certain cynicism and flippancy toward the highest offices in the United States of America. At this point in American history, our nation requires a president who can reassure the people in America — and the world — that he intends to return to responsible leadership. Does any objective person feel reassured?

The personnel safety nets for precluding disasters in assignments in both the military and corporate worlds are finely honed systems with highly qualified individuals making thoughtful decisions and assignments.

What are the equivalent safety nets for our elected leaders? There are four: 1) elected officials, 2) major political parties, 3) the Fourth Estate (media), and 4) the electorate.

John McCain's vice presidential selection, Sarah Palin, has slipped through the first two personnel safety nets for elected high officials. It's now up to the media and electorate to act as powerful safety nets.

In sum, Sarah Palin's selection literally tests the strengths and stability of our American political system.

Commander Beth F. Coye (Retired U.S. Navy) served in three intelligence jobs and is a former commanding officer. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, the American University School of International Service and the School of Naval Warfare (Naval War College). Coye taught Political Science and International Relations at the Naval War College and several undergraduate colleges. She co-authored My Navy Too, published in 1998. She resides in Ashland, OR.


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