Friday, March 03, 2017

The Night of the Generals

The headline in Politico is kind of jarring - "The Generals Guarding American Democracy: It has fallen to military men to keep our institutions safe."

It comes down to a simple fact. The sane people in Donald Trump's administration are his generals (at least now that Flynn is gone). He's got three - Mattis (defense department), Kelly (homeland security) and McMaster (national security).  All three are highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike.

A little more than a month into his presidency, a fundamental shift in civil-military relations is taking hold. Rather than civilian leaders checking military power, it is now military leaders, who represent one of the strongest checks against the overreach of a civilian executive.

Take President Trump’s comments on Thursday, in which he said the deportations of undocumented immigrations would be a “military operation.” Several hours later, the retired Marine general who serves as his secretary of homeland Security, John Kelly, spoke to the press. There would be, “No, I repeat no, use of military forces in immigration operations,” Secretary Kelly said. The White House later said, rather unconvincingly, that the president was merely using the word “military” as an “adjective.”

The Generals Speak Out

Comments from Gen. Tony Thomas, commander of U.S. Special Forces, concerning recent upheaval in the White House, as well as the decision of Robert S. Harward, a retired-three star admiral, to forgo serving as the president’s national security adviser, represent an important development.

General Thomas, when asked last week at a conference in Maryland about the state of affairs in the White House, used the words “unbelievable turmoil.” Turmoil is something General Thomas knows plenty about, having served as an elite Special Operations officer in Iraq and Afghanistan for much of the last 15 years. “As a commander,” he said “I’m concerned our government be as stable possible.”

His responsibilities commanding U.S. Special Forces also mean General Thomas knows something about how the decision-making process in the White House affects combat operations. The SEAL team leading the raid on al Qaeda operatives in Yemen late last month, which resulted in the death of Chief Petty Officer William Ryan, fell under General Thomas’s command.

Defending Democracy

One of General Thomas’s predecessors leading U.S. Special Forces, retired Adm. William McRaven, leveled his own critique of Donald Trump’s leadership this week. McRaven, speaking at the University of Texas, where he now serves as chancellor, commented on the president’s recent vilification of the media. “We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people,” McRaven said, according to the Daily Texan. “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

Old Comrades - They're the Type Trump Needs to Worry About

As a business leader and reality TV celebrity, [Trump] earned a reputation for encouraging divisions and rivalries on his teams, but in choosing Kelly and Mattis he has not two but three Marines occupying critical national security roles. Their friend and fellow Marine, Gen. Joseph Dunford, currently serves as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mattis, Kelly and Dunford share more than a pedigree. Kelly and Dunford served under Mattis in Iraq as part of the 1st Marine Division. It was where Kelly earned his first star as a general and where Dunford, then a colonel with a reputation for toughness, famously refused to wear his armor inserts until each of his Marines had received their own.

It Has Come to This. Trump, Bannon, Beware

Chairman Dunford has said little so far, but his role was brought to the fore by the president’s executive order reorganizing the National Security Council. The order left him, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, without a permanent seat on the NSC’s most senior body, while giving one to Bannon. According to reporting from the Associated Press, it was on account of concern with these sorts of half-baked executive orders coming out of the White House that Mattis and Kelly arranged to have one of them in the country at all times during Trump’s initial weeks in office. While the detail is buried deep in the AP’s story, it’s a significant revelation. Essentially, it shows that it is military leaders, albeit retired, who feel the need to guard against the overreach of a civilian executive. It’s a phenomenon familiar to countries like Turkey or Egypt, but not the United States. Until now.

As the president takes to Twitter to attack the judiciary on one day and declares the press the enemy of the American people on another, one of Samuel P. Huntington’s predictions appears to be coming to pass. “As the mass society looms on the horizon,” he wrote, “he [the soldier] becomes the conservative guardian of the existing order.”

If the president and his close civilian advisers continue to argue that historic norms and constitutional constraints do not apply to executive power, they should remember that those who protect this country swear an oath not to a person but to the Constitution and will be some of the most faithful guardians of American democracy.

It's Not Just Three Marines Who are Standing Up to Trump

From CNN:

More than 120 retired generals and admirals signed a letter Monday pushing back on the White House's proposal to make major cuts to diplomacy and development.

Retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, and retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander, are among the former three- and four-star generals who wrote that State Department funding is "critical to keeping America safe." They sent the letter to congressional leaders, two Cabinet officials and the White House national security adviser.

"The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way," the generals wrote.

They went on to quote a 2013 remark by Defense Secretary James Mattis while commander of US Central Command: "If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition."


Anonymous said...

"The sane people in Donald Trump's administration are his generals"... handpicked by the same Donald Trump?

Anonymous said...

DONALD TRUMP: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

Gotta wonder why he appointed so many losers to his administration.


The Mound of Sound said...

All I can say, A..non, is based on these generals history and reputation. What matters to you - reality or the fact that Trump somehow chose them? After all, he also chose Mike Flynn. With Mattis, Kelly and McMaster he's obviously acting on someone else's advice.

The Mound of Sound said...

I just did a post, Cap, about Trump's constant boasting. It was inspired by his claim that he's the "most militarist" person there is. He's always the best, the greatest, the biggest which also connotes extremism. If Trump is the most militarist person, who then is in 2nd place or 3rd or 4th. That's when the boast becomes pretty scary. You could say that Pol Pot was pretty militaristic. So too was that German fellow with the toothbrush moustache. Sometimes being the "most" is not such a good thing.

rumleyfips said...

Maybe the Deep State is just institutional memory dedicated to the rule of law and the US constitution .

The Mound of Sound said...

There are some who believe just that, Rumley.

rww said...

"The White House later said, rather unconvincingly, that the president was merely using the word “military” as an “adjective.”

Perhaps we can give Trump the benefit of the doubt her. The man does love his adjectives.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry, RWW, but I don't give him the benefit of anything. When 200 retired 3 and 4 star flag officers have to write urging him not to cut the state department budget, it's obvious he doesn't have the confidence of the military and their take is good enough for me when it comes to Trump.

Anonymous said...

What matters Mound that Trump personally selected generals, inasmuch as possible, over assorted crooks: CIA weasels, banksters and fake news prophets. US Army might have been duped and used by those crooks to the nefarious ends, but it always stood for the Republic.