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