Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Another Bad Day in US Civil-Military Relations

Sure, it is early but why not go ahead and label today another bad day in US civil-military relations.  The two stories animating this regard former General John Kelly saying dumb things and a trial balloon about the US potentially shooting down NK missiles being tested.

First, some folks are surprised that Kelly doth suck:

In addition to saying dumb stuff about pot, he was also saying dumb stuff about TSA: that while folks binge Madmen, TSA is making sure that folks don't carry guns onto planes.  Was this an intended shot at Sebastian Gorka, the Nazi in the White House, or was it just a coincidence?  Hmmm. 

Anyhow, this led to a conversation on twittter were those who study comparative politics noted that ex-generals often suck at governing in democracies, with heaps of evidence from Africa, Latin America, Asia.... you get the idea. 

We didn't really know much about Kelly before he took the post except he was a general, and people kind of assumed that if you rise that high, maybe you are not incompetent and maybe you are not one of the anarchists who want to burn things down like the rest of Trump's appointees.  And so Kelly becomes perhaps the poster boy for the tyranny of low expectations.  That the media didn't do much work to try to figure out what Kelly stood for, that the Senate did not push him that hard because the rest of the appointees appeared to be so much worse.  So, we now have a Secretary of Homeland Security who may join Sessions (the worst of them all) in reversing the trend on medical marijuana, who certainly has supported the immigration bans developed by Trump, and enabled ICE and other law enforcement in the US to exceed their instructions.  In sum, Kelly is awful.  And this is what you get when you appoint recently retired generals.

The second story scares me more.  That the US is contemplating shooting down North Korean missiles when they are being tested.  This is something that previous administrations have rejected for being too risky, but is being considered again.  Why? Probably because there are few civilians anywhere in the interagency to scream: hey, military dudes, the military options all suck, so cool it!  Trying to shoot down a missile could cause North Korea to escalate, as the article mentions. It could fail and thus undermine whatever deterrence American anti-missile systems have around the world.  Yes, this is an idea being floated, so what?  Is it going to happen?  The problem is that we have no faith right now that either Mattis will caution against such a risky effort or that Trump would not seize on this to prove his manhood.  Again, it comes down to two things here: Trump is an Uncertainty Engine and there are no civilians with wider perspectives involved.  Mattis is proving that he is still far more general than civilian, despite being the acclaimed warrior monk, and Tillerson is nowhere to be seen.  Oh yeah, and Pence is reminding the South Koreans that US alliances now are protection rackets.

Where are those folks who used to worry about civil-military tensions under Obama?  And I am afraid that we have not seen anything yet.  Still haven't hit 100 days and I have lost track of the civ-mil problems of the Trump administration. 

No comments: