Whether we like it, or even recognize it yet, the Executive branch of our government is now being run by current and former U. S. military generals. They are not only determining our military strategy, but actively engaged in the direction of U. S. foreign policy. Hence, the dramatic about-face from Donald Trump on our goals and role in Afghanistan.
The Founding Fathers recognized the inherent threat that a strong military could pose to a democracy. They sought to prevent this by making a civilian president the Commander-in-Chief of the military. Their wisdom and fears were justified when General of the Army Douglas MacArthur sought to sway the political decisions being made regarding the Korean War. President Harry Truman lost no time relieving MacArthur of command. Because Truman recognized that the President has a combined role of considering both the political and military consequences of his decisions.
This does not mean that military leaders cannot play an important role in government. The most notable of these would be General George Marshall, who served as the chief of staff during World War II. Following the war, he came out of retirement to serve as President Truman’s Secretary of State. His aid plan for a war-torn Europe, named the Marshall Plan, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. (The History Channel)
But Donald Trump is no Harry Truman. He admires strong men and lacks the strength of character to stand up to them. Douglas MacArthur would have made mincemeat out of Donald Trump. This is not meant to disparage the generals who are currently serving in the Trump administration.
General Mattis was perhaps one of Trump’s best, if not the best, picks for a Cabinet position as Secretary of Defense. General McMaster has the skills and background to serve as the Director of National Security, replacing the disastrous choice of another general, Michael Flynn. And everyone in the country hopes that General Kelly will be able to bring some order and discipline to an uncontrolled President.
What is concerning is the influence the military now has over the presidency, instead of the other way around – as the writers of our Constitution intended. President Obama was criticized, perhaps justifiably, for micromanaging military tactics and tying the hands of commanders in the field. But it is just as bad, if not worse, to give the military a free rein.
It is the role of the President of the United States, as Commander-in-Chief to decide when and where to commit our troops. Apparently, the generals were able to persuade Trump to increase our presence in Afghanistan by showing him pictures of girls in mini skirts from the 1970s in that country. Is our foreign policy now “Make Mini Skirts Great Again”?
When this is coupled with a Congress filled with neocons like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, you have a recipe for a diplomatic and political disaster in the making. Future decades of sacrificing our young men and women on unwinnable wars in unimportant countries.
Trump has a gutted State Department which should be advising him on diplomatic issues, but is unable to do so because there are so many unfilled positions. There are only a handful of ambassadorial positions that are currently occupied. Trump has shown his contempt for advice from Congress by publicly attacking his own Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In any other nation in the world, were a leader with authoritarian tendencies to surround himself with military advisers we would describe it as a military coup. Trump is now receiving military (Mattis), intelligence (McMaster), and domestic (Kelly) advice from a trio of generals. Is this not a de facto coup? If we have a president who is, essentially, controlled by his generals, is this not a de facto coup?
There is no doubt that these are good men with good intentions. But there is also truth to the saying “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”