Has Trump nom­i­nated too many mil­i­tary lead­ers — or too few?

Life­time politi­cians can of­fer only a dis­mal record of lead­er­ship

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian with the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is be­ing faulted for sup­pos­edly ap­point­ing too many re­tired gen­er­als to Cabi­net-level jobs and “mil­i­ta­riz­ing” the gov­ern­ment. Former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is slated to be na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. Re­tired Ma­rine Gen. James Mat­tis has been nom­i­nated as de­fense sec­re­tary. Re­tired Ma­rine Gen. John Kelly is Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of home­land se­cu­rity. High-rank­ing of­fi­cers such as Gen. David Pe­traeus and Adm. Michael Rogers have been ru­mored for other po­si­tions in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

All are re­tired as well as sea­soned vet­er­ans. They have been pre­vi­ously en­trusted with the lives of thou­sands of soldiers, and they have trav­eled around the world and met many of the key lead­ers in Asia, Europe and the Mid­dle East.

Most of the crit­i­cism of the Flynn, Mat­tis and Kelly nom­i­na­tions is po­lit­i­cally cre­ated hys­te­ria, like past con­trived bouts of par­ti­san frenzy over sub­jects such as the “war on women” or the “cli­mate of hate.”

Why, af­ter reach­ing a high mil­i­tary rank be­fore re­tire­ment, should a nom­i­nee earn more scru­tiny than an ex-banker, ex­politi­cian or ex-lawyer?

Did any­one com­plain when Barack Obama ap­pointed five re­tired gen­er­als and one re­tired ad­mi­ral to ei­ther Cabi­net posts or high-rank­ing po­si­tions in his ad­min­is­tra­tion? In fact, Gen. Flynn and Gen. Pe­traeus were first ap­pointed to high of­fice by Pres­i­dent Obama.

Un­der Mr. Obama, Gen. Pe­traeus be­came CIA di­rec­tor. Gen. Flynn served as Mr. Obama’s di­rec­tor of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency. Re­tired

Gen. Eric Shin­seki was head of the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. Re­tired Gen. James Jones was na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. Re­tired Adm. Dennis Blair and re­tired Gen. James Clap­per served as suc­ces­sive di­rec­tors of na­tional in­tel­li­gence.

Ronald Rea­gan also ap­pointed a num­ber of re­tired and act­ing gen­er­als to Cabi­net po­si­tions or other high of­fices, in­clud­ing Al Haig as sec­re­tary of state, Colin Pow­ell (while on ac­tive duty) as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and Ver­non Wal­ters as am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

Re­tired gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals as ad­min­is­tra­tion sec­re­taries, of­fi­cers, di­rec­tors and ad­vis­ers are noth­ing new. In the 20th cen­tury, most of the stars of the Amer­i­can ef­fort in World War II later served in the ex­ec­u­tive branch.

Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man ap­pointed Gen. Ge­orge Mar­shall (of Mar­shall Plan fame) sec­re­tary of state and, later, sec­re­tary of de­fense. Gen. Omar Bradley was head of the Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion while still on ac­tive duty.

Dwight Eisen­hower, with­out prior elected of­fice, proved a most ef­fec­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­dent.

The chief com­plaint about Mr. Trump’s ap­point­ments is that too many gen­er­als will mean too great a like­li­hood of war. His­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence points to the op­po­site con­clu­sion. Gen­er­als were not the prover­bial “best and bright­est” who ar­gued for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Viet­nam, the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003, or the bomb­ing of Libya in 2011.

In a fa­mous ex­am­ple of a civil­ian-mil­i­tary para­dox, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Madeleine Al­bright, scolded Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Pow­ell in 1993 for not be­ing more ea­ger to send troops into the Balkans. “What’s the point of hav­ing this su­perb mil­i­tary that you’re al­ways talk­ing about if we can’t use it?” Mrs. Al­bright asked Gen. Pow­ell.

Tra­di­tion­ally, re­tired gen­er­als and flag of­fi­cers have no de­sire to see their own troops killed in what they see as op­tional wars abroad. Their oc­ca­sional ha­rangues about build­ing up mil­i­tary power are pred­i­cated on no­tions of peace-through-strength de­ter­rence: The more pow­er­ful the mil­i­tary is per­ceived abroad, the less likely it will be need to be used.

Far more wor­ri­some is the tired pres­i­den­tial cus­tom of re­ly­ing on ex-sen­a­tors and politi­cians with law de­grees to fill im­por­tant ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions de­spite their lack of out­side-the-Belt­way ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

In 2008, Mr. Obama’s re­sume con­sisted mainly of hav­ing been a Har­vard Law School grad and, briefly, a U.S. se­na­tor. No won­der he looked to peo­ple with sim­i­lar back­grounds for some key ap­point­ments — former se­na­tor and lawyer Joe Bi­den as vice pres­i­dent, former se­na­tor and lawyer Hil­lary Clin­ton as sec­re­tary of state, and later, former se­na­tor and lawyer John Kerry as sec­re­tary of state.

Yet the cur­rent state of af­fairs, from the col­lapse of sev­eral Mid­dle Eastern na­tions to the failed re­set with Rus­sia to the out­ra­geous Iran deal, is not ex­actly ev­i­dence of suc­cess at the State Depart­ment. An Obama ap­pointee with a sim­i­lar back­ground, former se­na­tor and lawyer Ken Salazar, was not an es­pe­cially suc­cess­ful sec­re­tary of the in­te­rior.

Lawyers, Ivy League grad­u­ates and former politi­cians usu­ally dom­i­nate pres­i­den­tial ap­point­ments. How have th­ese stereo­typ­i­cal pro­files worked out?

We are cur­rently near­ing $20 tril­lion in na­tional debt, stag­nat­ing un­der nonex­is­tent eco­nomic growth and near-zero in­ter­est rates, and suf­fer­ing from record la­bor non­par­tic­i­pa­tion rates. We are see­ing a failed health care sys­tem, a dis­cred­ited In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, and the worst racial re­la­tions in half a cen­tury.

Gen­er­als did not com­pile that record. Lawyers and life­time Wash­ing­ton politi­cians did.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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