As Trump’s cabinet begins to take shape, key positions are being filled by generals who have not spent the customary (and sometimes legally mandated) gap time between military and political service, raising concerns of politicization down the ranks of military command.
The past week has seen President-Elect Trump nominate an unprecedented group of businessmen, right-wing politicians, and lobbyists into his Cabinet, leading to what many are calling the wealthiest and most controversial Presidential administration in history. A less-discussed but equally important group of Trump’s nominations are his choices for the leadership of the military and civilian intelligence organizations of the government for the coming years. As of this writing, Trump has selected Gen. Jim Mattis, USMC (Ret.) as Secretary of Defense, Gen. Michael Flynn, US Army (Ret.) as his National Security Advisor, and Maj. Vincent Viola, US Army (Ret.) as Secretary of the Army. All of these positions are significantly influential in terms of advising and directing the foreign policy of the United States, both through the Executive branch of government, and through the military/intelligence apparatuses themselves. Several other Secretary and advisory positions within the Trump cabinet are being filled with retired military figures, but have little or no influence over foreign policy or overseas operations.
It is not the fact that retired military officers are being called to serve in a cabinet, as the United States has a long and proud history of continued service by retired military figures, but rather the acceleration of their nomination so soon after retirement, that is unusual. This is especially true in the case of Gen. Mattis, as any former-military candidate for the Secretary of Defense position is mandated by law to to have at least a seven year gap between the end of their active military service and appointment to a senior civilian leadership position. Gen. Flynn (nominated for National Security Advisor) retired as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (a military position within the DoD) in 2014, though he is an Executive appointee, and not subject to Congressional approval. By elevating both to civilian leadership positions without a sufficient “cooling-off” period, the Trump administration runs the risk of A) politicizing the offices to which these men are being nominated, and B) degrading the cornerstone principle that US foreign policy is civilian-controlled. Both are dangerous for a multitude of reasons, but ultimately conclude in a less-effective foreign policy and increased risk to Americans both at home and abroad.
By creating a pipeline that leads from military service to civilian cabinet positions, the Trump administration sets a precedent for the active military leadership to act not necessarily in the best tactical or strategic sense, but to include partisan political considerations in their planning. Not only is this against Department of Defense regulations, it is demonstrably detrimental at every level to the conduct and execution of operations in the field. The American military remains a long way from embedding political officers with individual units, but general officers who attempt to curry political favor in the hopes of securing a future cabinet position directly undermines the trust the American people have that the military acts in their interests, under their oath to (and only to) the Constitution.
Similarly, Trump’s selective disdain for the intelligence apparatuses of the country (except for when they agree with his own aims) is equally dangerous, with perhaps broader implications for safety of Americans abroad and at home. If the Trump administration begins to eschew objective analysis of gathered intelligence in favor of partisan politics and internal jockeying, much of the advanced warning methods used by these organizations to predict and prevent attacks (not just terrorist, but clandestine, cyberspace, and overt military) may atrophy to the point of uselessness. The key to effective analysis and dissemination of national intelligence is the apolitical, non-partisan nature of the organization. These organizations do not, and should not make policy decisions on behalf of the President or other branches of government. They exist to provide the most accurate informations to support and inform separated and unattached policy makers. By injecting “his own people [into the intelligence community] as well”, the Trump administration undermines the foundational tenant of the national intelligence apparatus to put the needs of the country before all others.
As it stands, the incoming administration is already seeking to undo Obama’s legacy of the past eight years, and yet most of these are matters of policy that naturally ebb and flow with the political zeitgeist. Where Trump makes himself unique, and most dangerous, are his apparent attempts to influence and subsume the very entities that ensure the safety and sovereignty of the United States. By design, the military and intelligence organizations are kept separate from the government branches they advise, in order to prevent selfish political concerns overriding the priorities of the country. To weaken the barriers between the tools of the state and its leadership threatens not only the integrity of the organizations in the eyes of the people, but also the security of the country and its citizens outright. It behooves the American people, through the other branches of Government designed to check and balance the Executive, to ensure that the tools of American foreign policy remain tools, and not in turn wield themselves.
French 75 (Makes 1 cocktail)
For this week’s drink, The International is turning to some more military cocktails that were repurposed for civilian life, and in keeping with the season’s festivities, we’re adding champagne! Contemplate the muddling of the American foreign policy toolbox while this French 75 cocktail muddles your head. But beware: it’s not named after an artillery piece for nothing. Fire for effect.
- 1-1/4 ounce Hennessy Cognac
- 3/4 ounce Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
- 1/2 ounce Simple Syrup (or a tad less)
- Brut Champagne
- Lemon Twist for Garnish
Combine Hennessy, lemon juice, and bar syrup in a cocktail shaker filled one third full of ice. Shake thoroughly for ten to fifteen seconds. Strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top off with champagne. Garnish with lemon twist. (From Business Insider)