The Commission on Presidential Debates is asking people to vote on questions to ask Clinton and Trump. We have proposed a question relating to the limits on the kinds of orders which a president can issue as commander-in-chief.
When should the generals refuse a direct order from the president?
Can the military disobey an order from the president if they believed a preemptive strike requires Congressional authorization or an interrogation technique violates the Geneva convention?
We believe this question is especially relevant since Donald Trump insisted at the Fox News Debate last March that he can bully the generals into following illegal orders.
FOX HOST BRET BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.
So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?
DONALD TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.
BAIER: But they’re illegal.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he — now we’re talking about waterboarding.
This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last — two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too, because, frankly that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine — can you imagine these people, these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding. That’s my opinion.
BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?
TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.
Similarly, Trump promised to attack the Iranian navy if their soldiers make rude gestures.
And, by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people, that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.
Perhaps a reasoned discussion of the limits of presidential authority are in order before we get to a constitutional crisis where our military leaders have to choose to follow their commander-in-chief or the law. Heaven help us if they disagree on what to choose.
The moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz have agreed to consider the most popular questions, so please vote. Consider it practice for November 8.