The Washington Post on Thursday published an interesting article about the tension between President Donald Trump and his top generals, which included a notable 2013 anecdote in which Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster compared U.S. military strategy to Seinfeld:
“We know raiding and an attritional approach did not solve the problem in Iraq. Targeting does not equal strategy,” McMaster told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding that it was comparable to “George Costanza in Seinfeld, ‘leave on an up note’ — just go in, do a lot of damage, and leave.”
That got me thinking: Which characters can we use from Seinfeld to describe the top of the present national security food chain?
Here’s how I think NatSec Seinfeld plays out.
Jerry Seinfeld: Gen. Robert Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps
Neller, like Jerry, is smart, observant, and optimistic. But as has been observed on more than one occasion, Neller has a difficult time hiding his annoyance of things outside of his realm: destroying the enemies of America.
It probably wouldn’t take much for the general to sound Seinfeldian: “What’s the deal with all these wars in the desert? Why not go on over to the Pacific? We have landing craft. Do you know we have landing craft? It’s for beaches. It’s like a little vacation. You can assault the beach, and then order a nice little cocktail with an umbrella on top.”
Morty Seinfeld: Defense Secretary James Mattis
Mattis has strong convictions on how the Pentagon should be doing business and wants a full audit, reflecting a mindfulness for taxpayer dollars… much like Jerry’s father, who once calculated the interest on a $50 loan from 53 years ago.
Cosmo Kramer: President Donald Trump
Sure, the hair style kind of matches, but it’s the behavior that really stands out. Like Jerry’s neighbor from across the hall, Trump often barges in on his natsec team to bring up seemingly unrelated subjects (parades, walls, etc.).
From Trump asking whether the U.S. can seize minerals from Afghanistan and oil from Iraq to bringing up a nightclub to describe strategy, his ideas seem to fit right in with Kramer’s proposal of a new cologne called “The Beach” or a coffee-table book about coffee tables.
Elaine Benes: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, outgoing national security adviser
Elaine plays “one of the boys” on the show; McMaster tries to play hardnosed hawk with the rest of the national security staff. But the recent news of his ouster suggests it didn’t work out. Apparently there just isn’t much love for the active Army general in a room full of retired Marines.
Perhaps, like Elaine on Costanza’s toupee, McMaster will take his frustrations out on Trump’s apparent hair weave: “I don’t like this thing, and here’s what I’m doing with it,” McMaster might say, before chucking it out the Oval Office window and marching off into retirement.
George Costanza: John Bolton, incoming national security adviser
George’s personality is all over the place, but it’s mostly a neurotic existence spent avoiding as much work as possible, punctuated by bouts of irrational overconfidence.
Let’s hope for our sake he tries out George’s strategy of doing the opposite of his inclinations. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right,” Neller will tell him.
Newman: John Kelly, White House chief of staff
Uncle Leo: Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs
Dunford wouldn’t appear much on show since he’s busy offering the president his best military advice. But sometimes Neller runs into him on the street, at which point Dunford grabs his fellow four-star general’s arm and says “Robert! Hello!”
“Uncle Joe,” Neller will say awkwardly, before Dunford tells him about his son Jeffrey and his big promotion while working at the National Security Council.
Kenny Bania: Gen. Mark Milley
Like Jerry and Bania, Milley and Neller are working colleagues who both try to keep up a good public rapport. But there’s a competitive interservice rivalry at play, so Neller tries (and fails) to avoid Milley at all costs, despite him frequently inviting him to Mendy’s in the Pentagon cafeteria. It’s probably fair to expect a consummate professional like Jer— uh, Neller — to consider his cloying counterpart a “hack.” (“Hey Robert, I didn’t know you liked amphibious landings.”)
Frank Costanza: Adm. Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the Coast Guard
Like George’s father Frank, Zukunft is very quick to anger, which likely stems from some others trying to keep him out of the Del Boca Vista retirement community and whittle down his share of the budget.