Drudge is linking to a Weekly Standard post whose purpose can only be to take the President to task for alleged disrespect of the military. According to the WS, Obama boarded Marine One today without returning a military salute rendered by the Marine on duty outside the rotary wing aircraft.
But what is the real problem here? The President is Commander-in-Chief but this is certainly not a military position and the holder of that office is not bound to return a salute. Indeed, the President returning a salute is a relatively new phenomenon that one could argue is bound together with the overall rise of militarism in American society since WWII. It only really became the norm with Ronald Reagan and should be viewed as oddly as a member of Congress returning a salute (given the fact that civilian control of the military is divided between the branches and is not just the purview of the President). For more on the history of presidential saluting, see Michael Desch’s excellent Foreign Policy piece from last summer here, titled, “Mr. President, don’t salute the troops this 4th of July.”
Here is the best part of that piece:
But it is the constitutional issue that is ultimately dispositive for me. America’s Founders took deliberate steps to ensure civilian control of the military. One was to split the war powers — the power to declare war and the conduct of the war itself — between the legislative and executive branches. Their aim was to prevent the president from becoming a king. But they were also careful to specify, as the participants in debate at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 framed it, that the president was a “civil,” not a military, officer. As one participant observed, George Washington was not president when he was a general and not a general when he became our first president. Civilian control of the military was at the core of how the Founders thought about the institution of commander-in-chief and I worry that we are losing sight of that when we treat it as just another military rank.
Desch goes onto argue that a better way for the President to acknowledge military members is “a nod in the direction of the individual saluting, a quite word of thanks, and perhaps a handshake would be sufficient. Presidents should, of course, honor the troops — they just should not salute them.”
And what did Obama do today – perhaps after being reminded by a staffer that he’d get heat for doing nothing? He went out and shook the hand of the Marine. This seems perfectly fine, but even that should not be expected of a civilian leader who certainly shouldn’t be obligated to shake the hand of every citizen or soldier he passed by and who acknowledges him.
Trying to make a big deal out of this stuff is just the kind of baloney that neoconservatives serve up on a regular basis. For people who claim to appreciate the Founders, history, and prudence, neocons can be strikingly blind to all three when it suits their purposes.