Monday, September 4, 2017

Civ-Mil Pet Peeve: Trump and "His Generals"

FFS!!  How many things are wrong with this statement? 
  1. Kelly is not a general anymore.  His title is now Chief of Staff.
  2. Mattis is not a general anymore.  He is the Secretary of Defense
  3. Neither are "military leaders."  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford is our military leader.  Perhaps if there were a service chief of staff or combatant commander in the room along with Dunford, then we would have military leaders.
  4. McMaster?  He is a military leader, but currently is National Security Adviser.  Again, very problematic--he should have resigned his commission when he became NSA to prevent any confusions when he, as NSA, promotes the President's policies.   
  5. This is one time where Trump doesn't say "my generals," but he often does.  They aren't his.  They are generals (and admirals) of the United States. Their oath is to the Constitution and not to the President.  This is a huge distinction that Trump doesn't get, and one that is likely to cause big breaches in civil-military relations.
  6. No mention of civilians, such as #worstSecState Tillerson, the various intel folks, other civilians who are important in managing this situation.  Perhaps twitter is too short or perhaps Trump does not value folks who are not in uniform or who were not recently in uniform.
 I get it--that folks are relieved that adults (Mattis, Kelly [that same Kelly who was superenthused about banning Muslims]) are in the room.  But I continue to fear for civilian control of the military.  As I have long contended, Mattis does not really count as a civilian--his mindset is still military has he has little time to develop a more civilian perspective.  The law required a seven year break for a reason, even if Congress waived it this time.   I have argued since the appointments started being named that relief about the right generals being appointed was driven largely by tyranny of low expectations.  "Woot, Mattis" is really code for "Trump could have named someone far worse, so yeah!"  Just because Mattis is smart and well-read and cautious does not mean things are in great shape.

Yes, we are willing to violate the norms of civilian control of the military because we think that Mattis and McMaster can restrain Trump from starting a nuclear war with North Korea.  But two things are important--this ain't good for the future AND it hangs on us thinking that Mattis and others have the right ideas when they want to manipulate the President.  Given that some of these folks, including Mattis and McMaster might just want to attack Iran (something that caused Mattis to have friction with Obama), they might just get their way: "Mr. President, Obama wouldn't attack Iran... "  So, yeah, good to see these guys manipulate the President to avoid war.... but not really since the manipulation of a President by military guys is bad, bad, bad, and they might just manipulate him into a war.  We have long forgotten the failed Yemen raid of late January, but that was an escalation caused by the military folks goading on Trump.

So, once again, I think we are a severe crisis of civil-military relations.  Where is Congress, as it should be exercising oversight?  Anyone?  Anyone?

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