Wednesday, December 07, 2016

US Civilian Control of the Military

Retired Army Col. W.P. Lang and his circle who run the turcopolier blog are quite in favor of Trump.  Nevertheless they have concerns, I quote just one:
Mattis lost his job as CENTCOM commander for crowding the Iranians by sending US warships inshore where they were evidently expected to provoke a fight. This was contrary to Obama's policy and Mattis was warned about this behavior before he was replaced. Mattis should be cautioned against exceeding his authorities before being made SECDEF.
General James Mattis was fired by Obama in 2013, the conventional reports don't mention what these military insiders apparently know about that firing.  These reports do agree that the firing was rather unceremonious.

General Mattis is of course Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

Then there is a matter of a law dating from 1947:
U.S. Code › Title 10 › Subtitle A › Part I › Chapter 2 › § 113
(a) There is a Secretary of Defense, who is the head of the Department of Defense, appointed from civilian life by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. A person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.

OK, so Congress can give General Mattis a waiver, since he has only three years since active duty, not seven.  The purpose of the law, however,  is to firmly keep the military under civilian control, and if the turcopolier blog writers are correct, General Mattis actually took actions contrary to the President policy.  That is, as a general, he did not show proper respect for civilian authority, and was fired for it (taking turcopolier as true).

Should the law be waived for such a person?

Josh Marshall, at,  is not comforting:
This Is Not Normal

We now have three of the four top national and domestic security agencies of the government under the management of recently retired generals. (One might reasonably change the number to five if considered the DOJ which houses the FBI.) We could have a fourth if President-elect Trump chooses David Petraeus as Secretary of State. They are Mattis at the Pentagon; Kelly at DHS; Flynn as the President's National Security Advisor. There is nothing inherently wrong with having retired generals serve in high level administration positions. We've had a number of accomplished retired general presidents—Washington, Jackson, Grant, Eisenhower. Barely more than a decade ago, Colin Powell served as Secretary of State. Brent Scowcroft served as National Security Advisor. Petraeus served as CIA Director under President Obama. But the issue is one of concentration and recency.

All of these men have only recently retired from service. There's a reason why with the Defense Department a retired general is not permitted to serve as Secretary for seven years post-retirement. Mattis is getting a waiver. Concentration is the key issue. I cannot think of any time in history when an administration has been so dominated by retired generals.

This is the time when many precedents are likely to be broken.  Which ones ought to remain unbroken is critically important.