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Will Trump’s Military Fetish End Up Hurting American Democracy — Or Saving It?
Editor’s Note: This is the first edition of a new Task & Purpose column called “Swamp Warfare,” in which Jason Dempsey and other thought leaders examine the growing intersection of military, politics, and policy in the United States.
It is difficult to read a story about President Donald Trump without also hearing about “his generals.” Since Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster became national security advisor and retired Marine generals John Kelly and James Mattis moved in as chief of staff and secretary of defense, respectively, commentators have been busy discussing the implications of so many men with military backgrounds in powerful political positions.
Based on the number of articles discussing the ascent of these generals, there is clearly a lot of consternation about what this means for both how the government is run, and for the interaction between the military and the society it serves. Despite a few hyperbolic headlines, there is no military coup in the works, but the concern for the future of American civilian-military relations is palpable, and presents an opportunity for an extended conversation on the role of the military in America.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence depart the Pentagon following a meeting of the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2017.Lauren Katzenberg
As the attitude of the American public toward the military can be described as one of “respectful indifference,” it’s time to explore what that actually means and why. Americans almost uniformly view the military as competent and worthy of respect, but often have little interaction with service members or veterans, and lack any real understanding of how the military operates.
...we may be entering an era where support for the military is no longer bipartisan, but tied to party affiliation.
This dynamic comes from the trend of separating the military from the political. For much of human history the ability to fight, or to lead others in battle, was something of a prerequisite for political leadership. As recently as the American Revolution and, to a lesser degree, the Civil War, political leaders often raised, trained, and led units into battle. But by the 20th century this was no longer common. As explained by the famous British general and scholar, Field Marshall Earl Wavell in 1939:
Interchangeability between the statesman and the soldier passed for ever, I fear, in the last century. The Germans professionalized the trade of war; and modern inventions, by increasing its technicalities, have specialized it. It is much the same with politics, professionalized by democracy. No longer can one man hope to exercise both callings, though both are branches of the same craft, the governance of men and the ordering of human affairs.
With this separation of military and political leadership in the 19th century came questions of control. The prevalence of military coups around the world highlights the difficulty of maintaining political control while someone else directly controls the military power of the state. The United States has done well in this regard, due to well-established norms of civilian-military control that started with George Washington. The last 50 years of civilian control of the military have largely been driven by the groundbreaking works of sociologist Morris Janowitz, who emphasized the interconnected nature of military and political leadership and encouraged a shared obligation to the formulation of national security policy, and political scientist Samuel Huntington, who was more an advocate of distinct spheres of civilian and military control, with the latter’s view dominating our approach. While Huntington’s view has often been overly simplified and bastardized to imply a clear demarcation between all things political and military (much to the consternation of the ghost of Carl von Clausewitz), this approach has allowed the military a degree of separation from the messy realities of American politics.
President Donald Trump, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft render honors during the 136th Coast Guard Academy commencement exercise in New London, Conn., May 17, 2017.U.S. Coast Guard photo
So while the reputations of other government institutions have cratered in an era of extreme partisanship, the military has been able to sustain its reputation by being seen as above the fray of rancorous political battles. But what happens when the military, or military leaders, begin to play a greater role in politics?
The ascension of active and newly retired generals to high political positions puts the military’s reputation at risk in several ways. In the case of Kelly and Mattis, they have assumed two of the most powerful political positions in the United States. As White House chief of staff, Kelly wields tremendous influence on determining and executing the priorities of the U.S. government. And while he may not fully agree with everything that comes out of the White House, the actions of the administration carry his implicit endorsement.
Similarly, as secretary of defense, Mattis oversees the world’s greatest military, and a lion’s share of the federal budget. In this role, he is no longer just another Marine tasked with carrying out military operations, but has a direct role in formulating and defending how the United States deals with the rest of the world while protecting its own interests.
Yet only recently retired, both Mattis and Kelly are defined primarily as Marine generals, and referred to by the president as such. In today’s era of hyper partisanship, this cannot fail to influence perceptions of the political attitudes of the military writ large, with the short-term implications being positive or negative depending on where one sits on the ideological spectrum. Regardless, we may be entering an era where support for the military is no longer bipartisan, but tied to party affiliation.
President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base for Miami, Florida on June 16, 2017.Getty Images
A more direct challenge to norms of civilian-military relations can be found in the appointment of McMaster to the position of national security advisor and his decision to stay on active-duty while serving in the White House. While not the first active officer to hold the position — Colin Powell notably held it during the Reagan administration — the position also comes with risks to civilian-military relations. Typically, national security advisors act as either facilitators or advocates, and sometimes both, in developing our national security policies.
In his tenure as national security advisor, McMaster has often done much more than coordinate the interagency process, and has instead been an advocate of specific policy recommendations, in addition to defending and articulating the president’s worldview. If and when he returns to a regular military billet, he will have not only an independent political identity beyond being “just another general,” but will also have made public a worldview that may or may not be in line with the next presidential administration. It is difficult to envision a future McMaster, in uniform, appearing before Congress and declaring to be there “as neither a Democrat nor a Republican” as Gen. Omar Bradley once stated, and is regularly expected of senior military officers.
It remains to be seen how these developments will affect the military’s influence and reputation in the long term, but they are important enough to warrant further conversation. These issues, along with those related to the demographics of the force and “who serves” and who does not, are not going away anytime soon, and will likely alter civilian-military-political relations for years to come. These are conversations that call for both military and civilian engagement, as we collectively must decide how to sustain the reputation and effectiveness of the U.S. military, regardless of the party in power.
Jason Dempsey is a retired Army officer and the author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations. He is also the co-founder of MILLIE, which was recently named one of Forbes’ top veteran startups in America.
Army study recommends more sleep for recruits at basic, which drill sergeants will absolutely not disregard or anything
(Reuters Health) - Soldiers who experience sleep problems during basic combat training may be more likely to struggle with psychological distress, attention difficulties, and anger issues during their entry into the military, a recent study suggests.
"These results show that it would probably be useful to check in with new soldiers over time because sleep problems can be a signal that a soldier is encountering difficulties," said Amanda Adrian, lead author of the study and a research psychologist at the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"Addressing sleep problems early on should help set soldiers up for success as they transition into their next unit of assignment," she said by email.
Thousands of U.S. service members who've been sent to operate along the Mexico border will receive a military award reserved for troops who "encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action."
The Pentagon has authorized troops who have deployed to the border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since last April to receive the Armed Forces Service Medal. Details about the decision were included in a Marine Corps administrative message in response to authorization from the Defense Department.
There is no end date for the award since the operation remains ongoing.
A former sailor who was busted buying firearms with his military discount and then reselling some of them to criminals is proving to be a wealth of information for federal investigators.
Julio Pino used his iPhone to record most, if not all, of his sales, court documents said. He even went so far as to review the buyers' driver's license on camera.
It is unclear how many of Pino's customer's now face criminal charges of their own. Federal indictments generally don't provide that level of detail and Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson declined to comment.
It all began with a medical check.
Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.
It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.
Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.
The US military now has to ask the Iraqis for permission before giving close air support to troops in combat
U.S. forces must now ask the Iraqi military for permission to fly in Iraqi airspace before coming to the aid of U.S. troops under fire, a top military spokesman said.
However, the mandatory approval process is not expected to slow down the time it takes the U.S. military to launch close air support and casualty evacuation missions for troops in the middle of a fight, said Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.