As President-elect Donald Trump’s list for secretary of state grows, so do questions about others in his national security team. Specifically, the number of generals Trump is surrounding himself with.
Trump has named two retired generals to his team: Michael Flynn as national security adviser and James Mattis as defense secretary. Two other retired generals and a retired admiral are being considered for national security team positions.
The specific issue is Mattis retired from the Marine Corps in March 2013. U.S. law requires seven years of separation from active duty for any secretary of defense. For Mattis to be appointed, Congress would need to waive the requirement.
The U.S. Constitution empowers the President of the United states with the duties of Commander-in-Chief, ensuring civilian control of the military and the government. How might the presence of top military brass in the cabinet room impact the Trump administration?
Is James Mattis any Threat to Democracy?
Editorial Board – Bloomberg View
The law was broken once before, for George Marshall in 1950….when Congress voted to make an exception for Marshall, lawmakers insisted it be a one-time deal, stating that “no additional appointments of military men to that office shall be approved.”
Today’s Congress is not bound by the wishes of its forbears from 65 years ago, of course. But it owes them — as well as the authors of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and other founding documents — the utmost care in making another exception. While the idea of a military coup in the U.S. may seem absurd today, the Founders were wise to be wary of standing armies and officers corps amassing powers to rival those of the commander in chief.
WATCH: Remarks by Gen. James Mattis at his retirement ceremony March 22, 2013
Don’t Freak Out About Trump’s Cabinet Full of Generals
Rosa Brooks – Foreign Policy
The founders of the United States cared about civilian control of the military…for purely functional reasons: In 1789, those who controlled the military had the ability to control the state and its resources….
But in today’s world, does a formalistic commitment to civilian control of the military still do the work it did in 1789?…
I’m not at all sure. For one thing, today’s U.S. military has elaborate internal checks and balances and a deeply ingrained respect for democracy and the rule of law. It’s difficult to imagine any active-duty general or group of officers, no matter how popular, persuading the troops to ignore or overturn the results of an election or a properly passed law….
But more to the point, the ability to destroy — and hence to coerce and control — is no longer in the exclusive possession of the military.
The ‘Civilian Control of the Military’ Fallacy
Dennis C. Blair – The Atlantic
The principle worth defending is “democratic political control.” The armed forces are one of the most powerful institutions in any country—they are armed, organized, and powerful. In all dictatorships, they are used not just to deter or fight external threats, but to protect the government from and often to oppress the country’s citizens. In some weak democracies, they have deposed governments. One of the most essential characteristics of a democratic government is the ability to ensure that the armed forces are used only for the purposes ordered by democratically elected leaders. Democratic political control is achieved not by certain officials wearing suits rather than uniforms, it is assured by constitutional and legal processes ensuring that elected leaders in the executive and legislative branches have the ultimate authority over how the power of the armed forces is used.
Reclaiming Civilian Control: How to Keep Generals as Warriors, not Politicians
Dina Rasor – Truthout (from 2012)
[O]ur history is replete with generals working to push presidents into troop commitments and money that, in hindsight, could have been disastrous for the country….
Part of this story is how these presidents and other presidents stuck to the Constitution and insisted that the generals were there to lay out military options, and not tolerate the generals inserting themselves into the politics and foreign policy part of the system.
But the other part of this story is the concern that I have that these generals continue to try to take advantage of a new president, or any president, manipulate the facts to their liking, and when that doesn’t succeed, leak to the press.