Democratic Congresswoman: The Criticism That Trump Is Picking Too Many Retired Generals Is 'Pretty Offensive'

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 1:35 PM
Democratic Congresswoman: The Criticism That Trump Is Picking Too Many Retired Generals Is 'Pretty Offensive'

“Trump hires a third general, raising concerns about heavy military influence,” writes The Washington Post.

“The Creeping Militarization of Donald Trump’s Cabinet,” reports Time magazine.

It seems Democrats and the media are a bit unnerved that retired generals are being selected for positions that would be fitting for…retired generals. And any other civilian with deep knowledge and experience in national security matters. That is not disputed, but there’s a new sheriff coming into Washington D.C. on January 20—and it’s not like we shouldn’t have expected huge departures from the Obama administration in such areas.

The non-issue of a crisis in civil-military relations is being dredged up because President-elect Donald Trump just picked former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security. He’s the third former general to be selected after Gen. Michael Flynn, who will be Trump’s national security adviser, and Gen. James Mattis, also of the Marine Corps, who is expected to be our next defense secretary.

President-elect Trump said he was going to make a radical shift on defeating ISIS. That was going to require not only a shift in policy, but also who’s leading it—and Trump has shown his affinity for members of the military. Why not make them the face of his national security apparatus. The figures that will helm the agencies aimed at protecting us from terror attacks. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) said that she found the criticism that Trump was hiring too many retired generals to be “pretty offensive” in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper last night. She said that she doesn’t express the same concerns as her Democratic colleagues, noting that she still serves in the National Guard

“As a veteran and as somebody who’s still serving in the Army National Guard, I find it pretty offensive for people to outright discriminate against veterans,” she said. Gabbard continued by saying that these are men who have devoted their lives to serving our country, but now they’re disqualified from holding other positions of leadership because they’re generals. Yeah, I would find that offensive too. She added that because of their dedication to service and duty—the oaths they swore to protect the United States—that these men would be optimal to serving and protecting our system of government.

Still, “Junta Watch,” to borrow from Heat Street’s Andrew Stiles, will probably continue.

The Atlantic’s David Graham has a more levelheaded take on these picks. He rehashes some of the concerns from fellow members of the news media, and then dives into why this maybe happening—and the reasons are not bad:

Appointing too many generals would throw off the balance of a system that for good reason favors civilian leadership,” writes The New York Times’ Carol Giacomo. “The concern is not so much that military leaders might drag the country into more wars. It is that the Pentagon, with its nearly $600 billion budget, already exercises vast sway in national security policymaking and dwarfs the State Department in resources.” In The Washington Post, Phillip Carter and Loren DeJonge Schulman warn that “great generals don’t always make great Cabinet officials” and add that “relying on the brass, however individually talented, to run so much of the government could also jeopardize civil-military relations.” Rosa Brooks, meanwhile, suggests this isn’t much to worry about, saying that the old, formalized notions of civilian control are obsolete.

[…]

Trump has no national-security experience, and has shown very little interest in gaining it. It’s important for both his administration and his credibility to have people who know what they’re talking about around him, and the military imprimatur provides that. Second, Trump alienated so many civilian Republican figures—especially those in the national-security and defense realms—that he has little choice but to look outside the proven class of civil servants.

There’s also a political valence to it, however. Trump has spent the last few months promising to “drain the swamp,” and railing at the establishment and the Republican Party. That rules out almost anyone traditionally qualified for top jobs, even ones willing to serve in a Trump administration. The military is one of the few institutions that remains widely trusted by American society. In a Gallup poll this summer, it was the most highly ranked option, exceeding even small businesses and churches. At 73 percent, the number of people saying they trusted the military at least “quite a lot” was more than double those who said the same about the presidency.

Trump has said that he only hires the best people. After eight years of failed foreign policy initiatives, a change is coming—and these top-level national security positions may be filled with former generals but they’re also incredibly qualified for the positions. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Nancy Pelosi’s former challenger for the House leadership, said that he’s feels Gen. Mattis is qualified for the job. Sen. Jeanne Sheehan (D-NH) said that Mattis would be “a good choice” for defense secretary. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta thinks that Mattis should get a waiver, describing the 1947 rule that stipulated that those nominated to be secretary of defense who had served in uniform and must be retired for at least seven years to be “arbitrary.”

That was in a time coming out of WWII when there was a tremendous reliance on military leadership during the war and a recognition that they were warriors while the people considering defense policy had to consider wider issues,” he said. “I believe that civilian control and civilian involvement in the Defense Department is an important principle, but I also don’t think a military background should be disqualifying.”

The generals nominated to be in Trump’s cabinet will be confirmed since the Democrats may have criticized the selection, but don’t appear to have any appetite to pick a fight with the military and the veteran community. Moreover, it’s a fool’s errand since these nominees are qualified for their respective positions. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is one of those Democrats who will vote against Mattis’ waiver for the sake of maintaining civilian control of the military. Leon Panetta, who is also a Democrat, undercut that point. At the same time, it’s hard to see Democrats not being more aggressive in their efforts to block Mattis and Kelly if the 60-vote threshold were still in place, but it’s not. Thanks to Harry Reid nuking the rules on presidential appointments, a simple majority will be needed to confirm Trump’s cabinet. For Mattis, however, a 60-vote threshold on a waiver was probably going to happen, but House Republicans included language in a must-pass spending bill designed to accelerate Mattis’ nomination. The House easily passed that yesterday and left town for the rest of the year, so there’s no chance that the language could be changed, reported Susan Ferrechio of The Washington Examiner. The Senate may delay passage, but not because of the provision intended to help Mattis. It’s more due to extending health care benefits for retired coal miners. Government funding runs out Friday at midnight, though Senate Democrats don't appear to be opposed to the Mattis provision in the House bill.

But getting back to the Left thinking that former generals should be disqualified from serving in government, the junta is not coming. There’s no coup being hatched. Everyone needs to take a valium.