Ex-mil­i­tary lead­ers fill­ing many key posts

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Lolita C. Baldor

Dwash­ing­ton» on­ald Trump’s move to pack his ad­min­is­tra­tion with mil­i­tary brass is get­ting mixed re­views, as Congress and oth­ers strug­gle to bal­ance their per­sonal re­gard for the in­di­vid­u­als he’s choos­ing with a broader worry about an in­creased mil­i­ta­riza­tion of Amer­i­can pol­icy.

No fewer than three com­bat-ex­pe­ri­enced re­tired Army and Marine lead­ers, with mul­ti­ple de­ploy­ments in Iraq and Afghanistan, are on tap for high-level gov­ern­ment jobs nor­mally re­served for civil­ians. Oth­ers are en­trenched in Trump’s or­ga­ni­za­tion as close ad­vis­ers.

Re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn will serve as the pres­i­dent’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and Trump on Thurs­day an­nounced re­tired Marine four-star Gen. James Mat­tis as his sec­re­tary of de­fense. In ad­di­tion, re­tired Marine Gen. John Kelly is a likely pick to head the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

All three had high-pro­file mil­i­tary ca­reers lead­ing top com­mands, and they are known for their will­ing­ness to of­fer blunt pol­icy as­sess­ments pub­licly and pri­vately. But their strate­gic ad­vice could be col­ored by their years on the bat­tle­front watch­ing soldiers and Marines fight and die bat­tling in­sur­gents in the moun­tains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.

Those ex­pe­ri­ences can have markedly var­ied ef­fects, mak­ing some of­fi­cers a bit cau­tious when con­sid­er­ing plans to send troops into bat­tle but mak­ing oth­ers more likely to urge ag­gres­sive mil­i­tary re­sponses to na­tional se­cu­rity crises and less pa­tient with the slow pace of diplo­macy.

The men Trump has cho­sen so far are fa­mil­iar faces on Capi­tol Hill, hav­ing made fre­quent trips in their for­mer jobs, and law­mak­ers are ex­press­ing per­sonal re­spect. But some tem­per that with a wari­ness about the wis­dom of putting so many mil­i­tary lead­ers at the helm of the coun­try’s na­tional se­cu­rity when the na­tion was founded on the idea of civil­ian con­trol.

In par­tic­u­lar, some Democrats op­pose pass­ing a law over­rid­ing a pro­hi­bi­tion on an of­fi­cer lead­ing the De­fense Depart­ment be­fore he has been out of the mil­i­tary for seven years. That law has been waived only once in Amer­i­can his­tory, for Ge­orge Mar­shall in 1950. Flynn’s ap­point­ment does not re­quire con­gres­sional ap­proval, and there is no sim­i­lar law for Home­land Se­cu­rity.

Mat­tis re­tired from the Marine Corps in June 2013, and Kelly re­tired early this year. Flynn re­tired in 2014 af­ter be­ing pushed out of his job as head of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency.

“While I deeply re­spect Gen­eral Mat­tis’ ser­vice, I will op­pose a waiver,” said Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y., a mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. “Civil­ian con­trol of our mil­i­tary is a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can democ­racy, and I will not vote for an ex­cep­tion to this rule.”

Rep. Adam Smith, rank­ing Demo­crat on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, echoed that con­cern, say­ing that while Mat­tis served with dis­tinc­tion, “civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary is not some­thing to be ca­su­ally cast aside.”

It is un­likely, how­ever, that those trep­i­da­tions will threaten Mat­tis’ nom­i­na­tion. He has broad sup­port from Repub­li­cans, who hold the ma­jor­ity in both cham­bers, in­clud­ing from John McCain, chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“Amer­ica will be for­tu­nate to have Gen­eral Mat­tis in its ser­vice once again,” said McCain, R-Ariz.

There were even pos­i­tive words Fri­day from House Demo­cratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who said, “We are grate­ful that the pres­i­dent-elect re­port­edly found Gen­eral Mat­tis’ ar­gu­ment against tor­ture per­sua­sive. We will need the sec­re­tary of de­fense to con­tinue to up­hold the laws, al­liances and norms that pro­tect our na­tion and en­shrine our val­ues as Amer­i­cans.”

Still, na­tional se­cu­rity ex­perts raise con­cerns about the pos­si­bil­ity of a greater re­liance on mil­i­tary so­lu­tions to in­ter­na­tional prob­lems.

Vikram Singh, a for­mer se­nior ad­viser at the De­fense Depart­ment and now vice pres­i­dent at the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, said the law re­quir­ing a gap be­tween mil­i­tary ser­vice and lead­ing the Pen­tagon “ex­ists to pre­serve civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary, a cor­ner­stone of Amer­i­can democ­racy, and ap­point­ing a gen­eral so re­cently re­tired from ac­tive ser­vice to be sec­re­tary of de­fense is a se­ri­ous mat­ter, no mat­ter how qual­i­fied that gen­eral may be for the po­si­tion.”

Jon Soltz, who leads the lib­eral po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee VoteVets, said that peo­ple with mil­i­tary ser­vice are needed in Wash­ing­ton, but “it is some­what con­cern­ing that Don­ald Trump con­tin­ues to eye re­cently re­tired gen­er­als for some of the most im­por­tant tra­di­tion­ally civil­ian po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment.”

He added, “We should never lose sight of the bal­ance in civil­ian and mil­i­tary roles that has served our na­tion well for cen­turies.”

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, left, shakes hands with re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis last month. Trump said Thurs­day he will nom­i­nate Mat­tis as de­fense sec­re­tary. Carolyn Kaster, The Associated Press

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