Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Donald Trump Has Assembled a “Team of Generals.” So What’s the Problem?

by Nomad

A podcast takes a look at President-elect Trump's decision to surround himself with top military officials and the problem it presents to the long-standing neutrality of the armed forces.

You might not have heard of this news source but The UN Dispatch provides in-depth commentary and coverage on the UN and UN-related issues.
Its managing editor,  Mark Leon Goldberg, also hosts a fairly interesting podcast. Recently, the podcast investigated the implications of President-elect Trump's selection of "a team of generals" to fill key posts in his national security posts.  

His guest, Alice Hunt Friend is a former official in the Pentagon and is currently both a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

Top Brass

Most Americans (at least those with anti-fascist views) might find the idea of the former military officials dominating a presidential cabinet, a recipe for any number of disasters.That's especially true in peacetime and especially when the president refuses to support the opinions of intelligence agencies.

Indeed, Friend points out that while members of top military brass have served in civilian roles, (Colin Powell, for example) never before have so many generals been tapped to serve at once and in top positions in the government.
Among the many crumbling institutions when it comes to trust in government the military is saved from that. The American public still holds the United States military in very high regard.  
The problem comes in when  the US military is seen to approve or disapprove of a particular politician whatever his policies might be,
Trump's selection is a way of obtaining a kind of legitimacy that he could not acquire on his own merits. It implies that the United States military is de facto endorsing Trump and his policies. In effect, Trump has politicized the US military to become his private cheerleaders.

That politicization of the military is the stuff of insecure banana republic leaders. And for important reasons, it ought to be concerning to all Americans.

Trump's power play is calling into question the neutrality of the military which is supposedly not loyal to a particular party or an individual president, outside of his role as commander in chief. To say that the military is particularly loyal to one individual is, says Friend, problematic. Trump is, in effect, attempting to traffic on that loyalty to the country.
Thus, to question President Trump would mean questioning one's loyalty to the nation, the armed forces, the flag and everything it stands for. 

Military Neutrality at Risk

Friend points out that the US military's neutrality (based on its recognition of civilian control) is self-policed. Certain policies are understood, rather than codified into law and overseen by watchdogs.
For this reason, this precedent must be considered a serious challenge to the American democratic system. Therein lies another problem with President Trump's attempt to install a circle of general around him. 
The realistic near-term problem with that is that then you might start having senior military advisors and military advice come through the filter of either outright partisan interests, or even more likely simply trying to please whoever it is that you think might in the future be able to appoint you to something.
Suddenly there's the strong possibility that priorities can become warped by career ambitions. In the longer term, the historical professionalism and neutrality of the military could be seriously eroded. With that goes public trust in the military itself.

At his confirmation hearing, retired Gen. James Mattis took great pains to reassure members of Congress that the armed forces' subordination to political leadership will remain unchanged under his watch. 
"Civilian control of the military is a fundamental tenet of the American military tradition."
That's what the Congress wants to hear and he was subsequently confirmed as Secretary of Defense. Whether or not President Trump appreciates this delicate balance of power is quite another question.

Trump's team of generals may not represent a coup or the establishment of a military regime in control of the executive branch.
However, there are grave dangers in allowing the military to be tainted by sordid politics as it takes on a greater role in civilian political life. It's time for all Americans to think carefully about the policy implications of a president's decision to surround himself with generals turned politicians.

The 20-minute podcast, linked below, is well worth your time.