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The Military Standard of Integrity – Should It Apply to the Commander In Chief?

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By Matthew Wadler:

I am fairly confident in my assumption that ninety-nine percent of the country is breathing a sigh of relief that the election is finally over. That does not mean that everyone is happy with the outcome, simply relieved their lives can once again move forward without the constant divisiveness coming at us from every direction.

However, as in every election, there are scars that are left on both sides of the aisle. People feel cheated and angry. I completely understand this perspective and do not in any way begrudge democrats for feeling lost. I also agree with everything that both sides have been saying about this being a time to come together and heal as a nation. The next couple years are going to be interesting to say the least. A man who is a born again conservative (my words, not his) with a Republican Congress has the potential to move the path of this country substantially.

However, there are some things that I am having a hard time simply putting away on the shelf and ignoring. This election cycle showed many character flaws from both candidates. I still remember Trump’s comments about McCain not being a war hero simply because he was captured. Of course, there are entire books written about the character flaws of Hillary, not to mention an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI looking into the activities of the Clinton Foundation.

Let me transition from this thought slightly for a moment and speak of a young man by the name of Kristian Saucier. Mr. Saucier took classified photos of a US submarine while serving on board. While there is no evidence that he intended to sell these photos to a foreign government or had any other nefarious purpose for the photos; he is facing up to twenty years in jail. Granted, he did in fact interfere with the investigation by not being forthcoming and destroying evidence, but how is that in any way different from what Hillary Clinton did with her email server?

The question that arises is how do we hold our service members to stricter standards than that which we hold our government officials, or even our presidents?  Hillary was not elected, but she did win the popular vote meaning that over half the voters wanted her to be president and were willing to accept her actions.

There is always the standard answer that the pundits love to give – she was never convicted of any crime. To this I respond with Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This is the military’s law book. Art 134 is known as the catch all article. It encompasses all of these things which aren’t violations of law, but generally considered wrong. Specifically the article states, “Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special, or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.” In other words, if you didn’t meet the strict definition of a crime, but still did something considered unethical, that is enough to have a conviction by court martial.

Granted, the President is not subject to the UCMJ, as they are a civilian, even though they are granted the title of Commander in Chief by Article II, Section 2, Clause I of the United States Constitution where it states, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States…” The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines this title as, “one who holds the supreme command of an armed force”. This definition is adept at describing the power the President does in fact wield. Although convoluted and somewhat constitutionally untested, even the officers under the President’s command serve at his discretion.

Yet with all this power, there is clearly a separation of standards between the President and the military. I am not suggesting that the President be held to the articles in the UCMJ. The founding fathers ensured that there would always be a clear separation between the military and the government. This was done so that the military would not have a direct line of accession for a military coupe.

I ponder however, shouldn’t we be able to hold those that rise to the most powerful positions in our country to the same standard that we hold an eighteen-year-old serving in a highly sensitive position within the military? How is it that was can entrust our young soldiers, at threat of forfeiture of their freedom and liberties, with sensitive information yet not enact that same warning upon our leaders?

Am I stating that we should pardon Mr. Saucier for his violations? Absolutely not. What he did was a direct violation of general and specific orders issued to him by his commanding officers, and he should suffer the consequences for those breaches of obedience.  Yet at the same time, we need to hold our elected officials to the same standard.

If I had either Trump or Clinton under my command while they ran for office they both would have been subject and prosecuted under Art 134 of the UCMJ. Would I have been awarded a conviction? I believe that is a forgone conclusion. It would be hard for any fair-minded American to say that either of these two individuals acted with honor throughout this election. In fact, I would take the flipside of this question in asking can anyone show where they did not in fact cause disorder and bring discredit upon this incredible country?

This country needs its leaders to return to an era of maturity and restraint. A restraint enforced by the will of the people through our congressional leaders. Unfortunately, I am not sure if this is something that can happen in our current age of blind devotion to party over blind devotion to our constitution. What saddens me the most is how all of us who serve our country start our oaths of office with the same words. “I, [name], do solemnly swear that I will support and defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” These words are simple yet powerful.  All of us promise to you, the citizens of this country, that we will put you above our own needs. Whether that means I would sacrifice my life for your freedom, or that our President will have enough maturity to turn his cheek to petty insults, or that our Secretary of State will not sell her office for profit, the result is the same. We the people must have a government that is morally sound and above reproach.

Matthew Wadler is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran.  Wadler served admirably for twenty years before retiring.  His service included time as a paratrooper and two deployments to Afghanistan.

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