Charles Krauthammer

There is far more instinct than logic at play here. After all, the two greatest wartime presidents in American history were Lincoln, who served at most four months in the Illinois militia, and FDR, who served not at all. Moreover, there are a lot of impressive warriors you would not want near the presidency. Douglas MacArthur for one. Wesley Clark for another.

Yet that instinct is common for democracies at war. Take Israel, at war for the entire 55 years of its existence.

Israel has a habit of electing generals and war heroes. In the 1999 election, that habit went over the top: The two contenders for prime minister were ex-commandos who had participated in the same stunning operation -- in 1972, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and 14 colleagues shot their way onto a Sabena airliner hijacked into Tel Aviv, killed two terrorists and freed the passengers. No terrorist ever hijacked a plane into Israel again.

In that 1999 election campaign, Barak's advertising used a photograph of his younger self standing on the wing of the jetliner dressed in the mechanic's clothes with which he and the others had disguised themselves. Netanyahu likes to joke that Barak got the picture, but ``I was the guy who got shot in the arm.''

On the other hand, the biggest loser in the history of Israeli politics -- he lost four races for prime minister -- is Shimon Peres, who was a brilliant aide to David Ben-Gurion and helped create Israel's nuclear deterrent, but never saw combat. And every Israeli knows it.

That doesn't mean that Barak was a better steward of national security than Peres. It only means that electorates put a high value on wartime service for would-be wartime leaders.

The reason is deeply visceral. It is not just that you think a veteran -- or, even better, a hero -- has a better understanding of war, its strategy and its costs. It is that when the bad guys are after you -- say, after they kill 3,000 of your countrymen in one day -- you like the idea of a national leader who has no compunction about killing.

Kerry makes the point with extra emphasis by noting that he hunts. And plays hockey. Post-9/11, that's the kind of guy even Democrats want wearing the sheriff's badge.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

Be the first to read Krauthammer's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.