James Stavridis
Credit: U.S, Navy/Wikimedia Commons

This is interesting:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is vetting James G. Stavridis, a retired four-star Navy admiral who served as the 16th supreme allied commander at NATO, as a possible running mate, according to a person with knowledge of the vetting process.

Some close to Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, say she was always likely to have someone with military experience on her vice-presidential shortlist, and Mr. Stavridis, currently the dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, fits the description.

During his four years as NATO’s supreme allied commander, he oversaw operations in the Middle East — Afghanistan, Libya and Syria — as well as in the Balkans and piracy off the coast of Africa.

The folks at POLITICO are already trafficking in speculation that this is a head fake on the campaign’s part meant to provoke Trump into picking his own possible military candidate for veep, retired three-star Army General Michael Flynn:

A senior Democrat close to the vetting process told POLITICO the Stavridis float might be a bit of political psy-ops intended in part to spur Trump into picking Flynn — whom the Clinton campaign views as a disastrous choice who would hurt the Republican ticket.
The Clinton campaign had no comment.

Maybe. The other possibility is that she actually thinks he’d make a good choice for the VP slot, politically and substantively, and if so she might well be right.

We tend to think of people like Stavridis as strictly military men. But the truth is that the nature of their job has so changed over the years — having to manage an all-volunteer force with all of its gender, family, and work-life balance issues, as well as operate within an increasingly partisan Washington and ever more complex international alliances — that they have experiences that are much more akin to politicians.

This is a point Heather Hurlburt made in a brilliant Washington Monthly review of a recent book by Stavridis, The Accidental Admiral, along with similar books by two other senior military leaders, Tony Zinni and Wesley Clark:

They counseled and watched half a dozen presidents and uncounted congressional committee chairs, seeing those leaders perhaps as closely as anyone outside their inner circles is ever allowed. The three men are soldier-statesmen, perhaps as close as our time comes to “Renaissance men”: classics-quoting, economics-teaching, tweeting, Daily Show-appearing warriors. They hold degrees from Annapolis, West Point, Harvard, Oxford, and other elite institutions, most acquired at taxpayer expense. The operations of the last two decades forced them to get to know, and partner with, social workers and rape counselors, engineers and social media gurus, management consultants and diplomats.

Of Stavridis’ book in particular, she notes some advice he offers that would be especially helpful in any White House:

Stavridis offers a thoughtful chapter of how-tos for leaders dealing with the 24/7 media environment. For readers with backgrounds in government, the advice will be tremendous, while for others it may seem rudimentary: Have a good message, understand your audience, don’t miss your moment, tell the truth.

I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Stavridis a few times in the last couple of years, at events on national service and higher education reform (he’s a knowledgeable and passionate advocate of both) and at Greek-American gathers (we are co-ethnics). He struck me as unlike a lot of brass one meets — there’s zero alpha male swagger to him and he’s very self-deprecating. He’s said to be brilliant, but in my conversations with him he just came across as a regular smart guy, not at all pedantic.

Speaking of Stavridis’ Greek background, the journalist Gregory Pappas writes this:

Stavridis’ grandparents were Greeks from Pontus who escaped the genocide in the early 1900s and emigrated to the United States.

His 2008 book, Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command, goes into more detail about his Greek refugee origins. He wrote,

In the early 1920’s, my grandfather, a short, stocky Greek schoolteacher named Dimitrios Stavridis, was expelled from Turkey as part of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (read pogrom) directed against Greeks living in the remains of the Ottoman Empire. He barely escaped with his life in a small boat crossing the Aegean Sea to Athens and thence to Ellis Island. His brother was not so lucky and was killed by the Turks as part of the violence directed at the Greek minority.

A NATO exercise off the coast of modern Turkey was the “most amazing historical irony [he]could imagine,” and prompted Stavridis to write of his grandfather: “His grandson, who speaks barely a few words of Greek, returns in command of a billion-dollar destroyer to the very city – Smyrna, now called İzmir – from which he sailed in a refugee craft all those years ago.”

If Stavridis gets the VP nod, that’s a pretty good story for the campaign trail, no?

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.