What candidate -- Democrat or Republican -- can be a commanding commander in chief?

Sixty-three years ago, the country turned to a military hero, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, to extract it from the Korean War. Now, with bogged-down wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, the circumstance might suggest the time is ripe for another such warrior, but none is in sight.

In a prospective field of more than a dozen Republican presidential aspirants, some have military experience. But not one can boast of the leadership or charisma of the classic man on horseback that brought the likes of George Washington and Eisenhower to the White House.


On the Democratic side, of the four declared or would-be 2016 candidates, only former Virginia Sen. James Webb, a decorated combat Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, comes close to the description. But he has never achieved the heroic reputation accorded Navy torpedo boat Lt. John F. Kennedy after World War II.

The Revolutionary War also produced James Monroe, pictured holding the flag in the famous portrait "Washington Crossing the Delaware," and Andrew Jackson, more known for his exploits in the War of 1812, along with later presidents William Henry Harrison and James Buchanan.


Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce were generals in the Mexican War, and the Civil War featured Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt won fame in the short Spanish-American War, cashing in politically with his much-publicized leadership of his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.

All these came out of victorious wars, whereas the last four major conflicts -- Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq -- have left a bad taste with many Americans, either as indecisive or, in Vietnam, in bitter defeat. All have produced men and women of honorable service and sacrifice, but no Ike-like icons.

Yet the 2016 presidential campaign seems likely to provide a stage for fiercely debating again the most recent and ongoing fights in the Middle East that have grown out of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and now the emerging terrorism-rooted Islamic State.

None of the declared or prospective Republican presidential candidates is recognized as an established military leader, let alone a genuine foreign-policy expert. And Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is under heavy fire for her four years as the Obama secretary of state.

As a result, we can expect much jockeying for position and posturing among the GOP hopefuls to be seen as the party's most deserving and justifiable claimant of its mantle as a true foreign-policy leader.

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a prominent member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is an Air Force Reserve colonel and lawyer, and sidekick of Chairman John McCain, the Vietnam War POW and recognized Republican leader on military affairs.

But Mr. Graham so far has generated only single-digit support in the polls on which Fox News is expected to decide which Republicans will be invited to its Aug. 6 televised candidate debate.

Marco Rubio of Florida has been outspoken on the threat of the Islamic State as a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, but he has no military service background. Nor does former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who nevertheless already is bearing a burden of defending the military and foreign policies of his father and brother, previous wartime presidents.


Excepting Washington, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower, the records and achievements of most American presidents with wartime service have not been especially noteworthy.

One lowly Army captain, Harry Truman, eventually was rated highly in the Oval Office, but unrelated to his World War I service. Yet it fell to him to make one of the most significant military decisions ever, to use first atomic bombs against Japan to bring World War II to an end.

The next president likely will face the task of concluding America's longest wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the new one against the Islamic State, with no established man (or woman) on horseback in control to accomplish the job.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is