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Liberals Shouldn't Play Politics With Military Leaders

09/02/2015 05:55 EDT | Updated 09/03/2016 05:59 EDT
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Last week on Power and Politics, retired general and star Liberal candidate Andrew Leslie chided the Minister of Veterans Affairs "to lead or get out of the way." His tone and mannerisms were that of a general berating a captain. Gruff and unrelenting it was Fantonian in its delivery, the very mannerisms the Tories have had to reject with the removal of O'Toole's predecessor. It is an unwritten rule within the forces that Leslie being a former commanding officer of a Canadian institution that produced him and by definition should remain apolitical.

A former U.S. marine lieutenant general stated "a senior officer should realize that by lending his name or title, he or she is being 'used' by a politician . . . . [T]o lend one's name and title to a political campaign is a form of prostitution.

A former U.S. commanding officer pointed out commanding officers "never really 'retire' but, like princes of the church, embody the core culture and collectively represent the military community as authoritatively as the active-duty leadership."

Steve Corbett and Michael J. Davidson write:

"As an institutional norm, political neutrality is essential to the military's ability to survive in its present form. When retired military officers publicly enter the political fray through endorsements or other forms of involvement, they trigger several concerns that the military as an institution should not take lightly. The prospect of retired officers endorsing competing candidates runs the risk of undermining the confidence that the public has in the military's political neutrality."

Samuel Huntington has said, "Politics is beyond the scope of military competence, and the participation of military officers in politics undermines their professionalism, curtailing their professional competence, dividing the profession against itself, and substituting extraneous values for professional values."

Retired officers who achieve command positions have usually spent the great deal of their adult professional lives in the armed forces. They have incorporated the military's culture into their lives and should be sensitive and responsive to disapproval levelled by colleagues with respect to their behaviour after retirement. While serving in the forces all soldiers have to remain apolitical and are not permitted to publicly endorse a candidate or party. It is also seen to be in poor form when retired officers of high rank attempt to use the position obtained to their advantage. Especially if it is to settle a score.

Just like Eve Adams and Belinda Stronach, this is not the first time that the Liberal machine has used a conduit to settling scores. Recent failures by the current Conservative government have led to many former soldiers into joining the Liberal party as candidates.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie is the most high profile of the Liberal nominees in the upcoming federal election. If his party is to form the next government then his name is surely to be at the top of a short list to be named the next Minister of Defence. He will then be the boss of the chief of defence staff and the boss of the man he was passed over for promotion.

Here is a story of a soldier that was earmarked for greatness. Promoted early and often, those that have met him were awed by his charisma and intelligence. His ascension seemed destined to end with the most coveted of positions, chief of defence staff (CDS). It was only after he published the controversial Report on Transformation 2011 that his career screeched to a halt. Had the Conservatives appointed him as CDS, he would have implemented the plan to give the forces "more bite and less tail" -- a plan that general Hillier and many others went on the record as saying would have done irreparable damage to the forces.

Ergo the Conservatives not wanting divisiveness within its military -- Leslie was passed over as CDS and subsequently retired.

Leslie was offered various positions by the Conservatives post-retirement, but the damage had been done. The Liberals were all too happy to welcome the disgruntled general into the party and some even accused them of "back-room" politics at his nomination.

Our nation's military must not be held hostage to anyone's motives and for all of our sakes, I hope the Liberals never get to implement their plans, and the fact that they would allow themselves to get involved in a vendetta is indicative of the quality of their leadership.

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