William Astore on Mike Pence’s Visit to Afghanistan

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 wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

  • BrotherJonah

    I often wear cami jammies (old style camouflage) when out in the woods. Mostly so I’m not seen by the wrong people, plus the IR block on some is warm insulation. That and I can get them for a couple of bux at goodwill. Not in any way masquerading as active duty. What Pence and Trump and Reagan and either of the Bushes (I don’t recall seeing Obama doing it) did more than borders on ‘stolen valor’. Maybe it’s a ruse to disguise themselves as just another soldier regardless of rank, to foreign fighters who would find the emperor or President of Vice to be a really juicy target. Not really going to work though, Emperor Trump is really easy to spot.

    The Uniform as described to me in Basic is to make everybody anonymous. You give up your identity and individuality and it makes you more susceptible to Group Think. A unit most replaceable. After 37.5 years of civilian rehabilitation I still step off with the left foot and I call digits when reciting my phone or address or any numeric sequence (Five Zero One instead of five hundred one) and use phrases like Say Again instead of “can you repeat that?” but I Do Not Attempt To Convince People That I Am Military. I make the point very clearly. Dodgers like Trump and Pence etc just come off as being stupid when they play soldier for the news cameras.

    As for their ridiculous assertions of empathy for the cannon fodder, they just ain’t fooling anybody, and their lies have earned them a warm welcome when they make their final journey.

    • CJ

      But he displays his father’s Bronze Star from Korea in his office. So, he loves the military and can’t wait to send other people’s kids to fight and die, along with the innocents of the target country.