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Vice Presidents at War

By Andrew J. Polsky
Much of the attention to Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate will focus on whether the selection will influence the outcome of the election in November. (The short answer is probably not, unless he suddenly decides to think outside the proverbial box.) We might do better to spend more time considering how a vice president influences policy. I find that vice presidents have sometimes played a role in policy debates, but it is never decisive.

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Reading Tea Leaves

By Andrew J. Polsky
With Mitt Romney’s trip abroad to visit Israel, Poland, and Great Britain, the focus of the 2012 presidential campaign shifts briefly to foreign policy. The Romney people hope to project the image of their candidate as a credible head of state and commander-in-chief, as well as to score some political points at home. The visit to Israel, a nation President Obama hasn’t visited during his first term, seems designed to stir doubts about the incumbent among American Jews, long one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs. This is all pretty standard fare for presidential candidates.

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No Panacea: Why a draft wouldn’t stop a war

Andrew J. Polsky
The long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted a number of politicians and pundits to recommend a return to conscription. On several occasions Charles Rangel, the Democratic representative from New York City, has introduced bills to revive the draft. Stanley McChrystal, former military commander in Afghanistan, has urged that the country not fight another war without a draft. His call was the point of departure for noted journalist Thomas E. Ricks, who proposes a law mandating universal service for all 18-year-olds, with an option for either military or civilian public service.

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After a “Referendum” Election

By Andrew J. Polsky
The 2012 presidential election has assumed the form of a popular referendum on Barack Obama’s four years in the White House. Put simply, neither the president nor his Republican opponent Mitt Romney has said much about what he would do if elected. Voters instead are being asked to render their verdict on the past. One consequence is that the winner, whether Obama or Romney, will not be able to invoke a mandate for policy initiatives over the next four years.

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The Wartime Presidency

By Andrew Polsky
In 2012, the American people will choose between two candidates for the Oval Office who share in common something unusual — neither one has ever spent a day in a military uniform. No presidential election since 1944 has featured two major party candidates with no military experience. The absence of a candidate with time in the military has led some to bemoan the separation between civilian life and military service. But the more immediate concern should be whether a lack of military experience has an impact on how well a president performs as a wartime leader.

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Presidents, protest, and patriotism

By Andrew J. Polsky
In the midst of a military conflict, domestic antiwar opposition always vexes a president. This reaction is understandable. He sees the criticism as a risk to national security, something that will give aid and comfort to the enemy, demoralize American troops in combat, and weaken the resolve of the public. What he fails to appreciate is how protest serves as a warning that something has gone very wrong with his war.

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To be Commander-in-Chief

On April 4, 1864, Abraham Lincoln made a shocking admission about his presidency during the Civil War. “I claim not to have controlled events,” he wrote in a letter, “but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” Lincoln’s words carry an invaluable lesson for wartime presidents. Author Andrew J. Polsky believes when commanders-in-chief do try to control wartime events, more often than not they fail utterly. He examines Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, showing how each gravely overestimated his power as commander-in-chief.

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Muddling counterinsurgency’s impact

By Andrew J. Polsky
John A. Nagl, a noted commentator on military affairs, blurs many lines in his effort to claim success for counterinsurgency tactics in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. For example, he correctly observes that in Iraq in 2007 both the counterinsurgency (COIN) methods employed during the American troop surge and the Sunni Awakening helped reverse the tide of violence. Yet he quickly brushes past the impact of the latter when he asserts “[t]he surge changed the war in Iraq dramatically.”

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Obama v. Romney on Afganistan strategy

By Andrew J. Polsky
Several weeks ago, when asked about his policy on Afghanistan, Republican presidential-nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney said he would wait until he had spoken to his military commanders before deciding on a timetable to withdraw American troops. A recent report by David E. Sanger in the New York Times makes clear the striking difference in approach between Romney and President Barack Obama. Obama decided last year that he would conclude his Afghan troop surge in September 2012 and hold fast to his withdrawal timetable without conferring with General David H. Petraeus.

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Mitt Romney as Commander in Chief: some troubling signs

Now that Mitt Romney has established himself as the certain Republican nominee in the 2012 president election, Americans will begin to scrutinize his record and his statements more closely. The economic problems that have beset the United States over the past four years mean that much of the attention will focus on Romney’s economic proposals; so, too, does the ongoing controversy over “Obamacare” assure a focus on the Republican’s stance on health care. However, with an ongoing war in Afghanistan and continuing tensions over the Iranian nuclear weapons program, we also need to consider how Romney understands the role of the president as a commander in chief. Some of the signs are disturbing.

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