Don’t freak out about Trump’s cabinet full of generals

Rosa Brooks writes: Generals, generals, generals! These days, you can’t shake a stick around Chateau Trump without hitting a retired general — and you can’t shake a stick around America’s major media outlets without hitting an op-ed on the perils of appointing retired generals to cabinet positions.

It’s true that Donald Trump seems to have a fetish for retired generals. Trump has named retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as his national security advisor and now retired Marine Gen. James Mattis is the president-elect’s top pick for secretary of defense. A gaggle of other retired four-stars are also under consideration for cabinet-level positions in the Trump administration, including Army Gen. David Petraeus, said to be in the running for secretary of state, and Marine Gen. John Kelly, reportedly on the short list for secretary of homeland security.

With the exception of Flynn, whose inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail alienated even many of his onetime fans, the retired officers in the running for cabinet spots are widely respected on both sides of the political aisle. Nonetheless, many commentators have expressed concern about the possibility of a cabinet stocked with former four-stars. Writing in the Washington Post, my friends Phil Carter and Loren DeJonge Schulman argue that “if appointed in significant numbers,” retired officers “could undermine … civilian control of an apolitical military.” Op-eds and articles in the New York Times, The Associated Press, and dozens of other publications — including this one — raise similar objections.

Most of these objections have been articulated by people I know and respect, and as the author of a recent book called How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, you might expect me to share these objections. For some reason, though, I’m having trouble getting worked up about the number of generals visiting Trump Tower. (Full disclosure: Both Mattis and Petraeus were kind enough to write nice blurbs for my book, which makes me feel quite fond of them.)

I know I’ll probably get an “F” in Civil-Military Relations Theory for saying this, but I don’t much care if Donald Trump appoints one retired general to his cabinet or 10.

In part, this is because I think we have much bigger problems to worry about right now, such as the resurgent white nationalist movement emboldened by Trump’s victory, the possibility of significant reversals on voter rights, climate change, and a host of other issues. And, more broadly, the simple fact that the White House will soon be occupied by a man who devotes the wee hours of each morning to tweeting insults at Broadway performers, former beauty pageant winners, and random journalists.

Against this backdrop, a cabinet stocked with retired military officers is the least of my worries. (And, frankly, anyone who thinks Rudy Giuliani would make a better secretary of state than David Petraeus needs to have their head examined.) But it’s more than that. I also think that the current outpouring of concern over Trump’s flirtations with retired generals confuses form with substance. [Continue reading…]

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