In America, when we elect a civilian to be our president, he or she becomes the most powerful military leader in the world: commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces leading over 1.3 million active-duty personnel and nearly 1 million Reserve and Guard members. The commander in chief oversees a global military reach that vastly overshadows other nations and an enormous advanced arsenal that includes a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons in a world where more and more of our potential adversaries have them as well.
Most experts and historians agree that October 1962 was the closest we have ever come to all-out nuclear war. The Soviet Union had stationed Ilyushin IL-28 nuclear-capable jet bombers and was installing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba capable of reaching Washington, D.C., and New York City. The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously recommended a pre-emptive, full-scale attack on Cuba. The world braced for a nuclear exchange.
Fortunately, in John F. Kennedy, the United States had a commander in chief who was knowledgeable enough to stand up to his Joint Chiefs. Kennedy understood all of the elements of national power — not just military force — and he was temperate and thoughtful enough to carefully consider and explore all of his options before making a decision. As a result, President Kennedy chose to put in place a bold naval blockade that avoided a point-of-no-return attack, and then pursued diplomacy that resulted in a peaceful resolution.
With a less equipped and less knowledgeable president, this outcome could have been very different. And today, the world still has over 15,000 deadly nuclear warheads and remains a dangerous place.
I cannot help but think of the horror that might have ensued if Donald Trump had been making these decisions in 1962. The men and women who protect our country, and so much of the world, deserve a commander in chief who is well-informed, exercises good judgment and is both decisive and careful. They deserve a leader who has real-world experience and understands that diplomacy, alliances, economic and financial capabilities, and information are the first tools of conflict resolution. We need someone who knows when to commit American blood and treasure to armed conflict — and more importantly: when not to.
Donald Trump is the antithesis of who a commander in chief ought to be. He has shown himself, time and again, to be a belligerent, impulsive bully toward our oldest allies and friends. He insults our friends, including Britain, and praises our adversaries, like Vladimir Putin. He openly admires dictators, actively promotes military adventurism and war crimes, and encourages strong-arm tactics. He has, for some time, exhibited a remarkable resistance to facts about our national security. And his ideas are not only inimical to American values, they are downright dangerous to American national security.
Just listen to Donald Trump's own words. He wants to give more nations nuclear weapons, including some in the world's most combustible areas. He has threatened to abandon NATO, which has partnered with the U.S. for decades to fight terrorism and thwart Russian expansionism. He advocates torture and murdering the families of suspected terrorists (which are, by the way, war crimes). He doesn't believe in climate change, which means he does not understand a huge challenge for American national security and global stability.
He is erratic, thin-skinned and unpredictable. He flies off the handle in response to the smallest slights. And he is prone to change his views based on whims or public reaction. Perhaps some feel that being unpredictable is exciting or refreshing, but on the world stage, it causes allies to be distant and noncommittal. And for adversaries, it causes miscalculation, instability and crisis. Unpredictability is not a virtue that makes America more secure.
Even some members of his own party recognize that Mr. Trump would be a dangerous commander in chief. When he was still in the running, Sen. Marco Rubio declared that the U.S. should never give the nuclear codes "to an erratic individual" like Mr. Trump.
Every presidential election in the U.S. is consequential, but this particular ballot could have an unprecedented impact on the lives of Americans. This election is between one person — Hillary Clinton — who is extremely capable, experienced, knowledgeable, thoughtful and decisive, and someone who has yet to demonstrate even one of the core values of our Armed Forces.
Donald Trump is simply not fit to be commander in chief of our Armed Forces, and his election would be catastrophically dangerous to American security.
Jamie Barnett is an attorney in Washington and retired from the Navy after attaining the rank of rear admiral. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.