How many generals are too many generals? Pending Senate confirmations of course, President Elect Donald Trump is well on the way to assembling the most military-heavy White House since World War II – he’s already tapped three generals for top national security roles and he’s also in talks with at least two other generals. Civilian control over the military is a staple of American democracy, so Trump’s particular preference for one type of public servant is causing some uneasiness in Washington, and might be interpreted as sliiightly obsessive. So is it just that Trump is drawn to the stereotypical machismo of a military leader or is he sending a darker message to the rest of the world about how he will handle America’s foreign relations?
Trump’s relationship status with the generals thus far = it’s complicated. During the election he boasted about his superior knowledge of ISIS and the military, yet he repeatedly bragged about the 88 generals who pledged their support to his campaign. So why is Trump so smitten with the top brass, you ask? Well possibly because he sees in them the kind of leader he wants to be – straight-talkers, confident winners, strong warriors. And then there’s the ego-boosting popularity factor – in an era where government mistrust is unusually high, the military has maintained public support and maybe Trump is hoping that support will rub off on him. And then there’s Trumps obvious lack of foreign policy experience, so his choice could simply be a practical way to boost his street cred. Or maybe he really does plan to bomb the hell out of ISIS, or Iran, or North Korea or anyone else who insults or threatens the US. Either way, there’s no need to panic… yet.
Many are concerned that high-ranking war-forged leaders combined with a tough-talking and inexperienced commander in chief is a recipe for a military coup or World War III. However it’s reasonable to assume that people who are familiar with the tough choices, terrible costs and unintended consequences of wars would be far more cautious about resorting to military (whether ground, drone or cyber) force than anyone else. Then again, it’s also reasonable to assume they have a particular world view and set of responses to it. The problem is that America will undoubtedly face global terrorism, political, diplomatic, economic, trade and environmental challenges in the next few years, with most requiring non-military solutions. And while having a bunch of generals in charge might seem like a good idea to comfort a scared America facing an uncertain and dangerous future, choosing a diverse cabinet with an array of worldly and political experience would only increase the odds of making America great again.
Feel like too many generals might make a mess of it? Movie for your trial and error mood: Breaker Morant