Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, reassuring the assembled troops that they are winning the war there, despite evidence to the contrary. For the occasion he donned a spiffy-looking leather military flight jacket, customized for him, as have other presidents and VPs going back at least as far as Ronald Reagan.
I’ve written about this before, this adoption of military clothing by civilian commanders. It’s an insidious blurring of the lines between the civilian chain of command – and the crucial idea of civilian control of the military – and the military chain. You don’t see generals and admirals on active duty showing up to testify before Congress in civilian coat and tie: they wear their uniforms because that’s who they are – commissioned military officers. Similarly, our civilian leaders, whether Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama or Donald Trump, should wear their “uniform,” typically civilian coat and tie, for that is who they are. They should never wear military flight jackets and similar items, no matter how “cool” or “supportive” they think they look. It sends the wrong sartorial and political signals.
I just can’t imagine Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was of course a five-star general before he became president, wearing military jackets and hats while he was president. Ike knew better. He was the civilian commander in chief, thus he dressed like it. Same with George C. Marshall. He wasn’t parading around in military jackets when he was Secretary of State in the aftermath of World War II.
Hitting another common theme, Pence was at pains to praise the troops as heroes, noting that “You are the best of us.” Why this need for endless flattery of the troops? Recall that President Obama praised the U.S. military as the finest fighting force in history. Satirically, you might call it the 4F military: the finest fighting force since forever.
America’s civilian leaders need to put aside hyperbolic praise and wannabe military uniform items. There’s a far better way of complimenting our troops while leading America. That better way? Ending America’s wars and bringing the troops home.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.