Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: Trump’s Generals Versus Obama’s Generals

REUTERS/Mike Segar

Susan Smith Columnist
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Everyone with the exception of the clinically insane at this point is thrilled with the appointments of President-Elect Donald Trump to his Cabinet and other high level posts, primary among them certain retired members of the U.S. military.

That would include General James Mattis, known by the sobriquet :”Mad Dog,” which he reputedly does not like, so striving to keep the Mad Dog happy, we will instead call him by his other nickname, the “Warrior Monk.”  General Mattis is a retired four star general of the U.S. Marines, of which he was a member for 40 years, and was considered by just about everyone to be the best of the best in his roles within this magnificent group.  Also a recognized intellectual and scholar, if confirmed he would be the highest-ranked military official to ever lead the Pentagon.  General Mattis consistently displayed his strategic and operational genius as a Marine general, but also manifests the “bluntness, clarity, and single-minded focus on warfighting” and military strategy that is necessary in effectively running the U.S. Defense Department. The DOD secretary’s job is by necessity unfortunately political in nature as well, and it is thought that the bureaucratic necessities that are involved are thought do not play to the General’s strengths.  With that, the Warrior Monk has captured the already captured the imagination of the American people, and clearly has the confidence and support of his President.

General Michael Flynn was the first appointment of these three Generals by President-Elect Trump, as his National Security Advisor.  This is a position that does not need Senate confirmation, which is thought to be a good thing, as this is perhaps the most controversial of the three such military appointments by Mr. Trump at this point.  Having served as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command, General Flynn is known as “an iconoclast whose record of scorched-earth leadership at the JS OC and (his other leadership position), the Defense Intelligence Agency, does not augur well” for future such positions.  Thus far, Flynn’s greatest success was considered to be “the building of the Joint Special Operations intelligence machine.” It was thought that Flynn also succeeded at the JSOC because of the “unique battlefield conditions of his job, his narrow mandate and his incredible leadership capabilities.” which helped knit together the “team of teams” that JSOC became.  As additional information, General Flynn served as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, and during the entirety of the tenure in this influential post was never called into a meeting by the President at the time, Barack Obama.

General John Kelly is President-Elect Trump’s appointment for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  General Kelly is the longest serving Marine General in the history of the Corps, having served for 46 years, and later served as the head of the United States Southern Command.   Mr. Trump became aware of “Kelly’s eminence as a military chief who has led troops during some of the bloodiest days in Iraq, a diplomat who has dealt with various friendly and unfriendly foreign governments on the American continent and overseas and a national security expert with first-hand experience on threats U.S. homeland emanating from transnational criminals and terrorists found on the Western Hemisphere and beyond,” and will provide advice and counsel appropriate to that expertise.

In reference to our founding, our brilliant first leaders embedded civilian control of the military in our Constitution for good reasons: They wanted to avoid a military dictatorship and limit the potential for military coups. “War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement,” James Madison wrote in 1793. So they formalized checks and balances by making the president the commander in chief, while vesting Congress with the power to declare, regulate and fund war.

Are the stellar individuals of the Administration to come similar to the high level military appointments made by Barack Hussein Obama to his Administration?  Let’s contrast and compare.

First, we had General Eric Shinseki who was appointed by Obama as Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  His tenure, sadly,  was a complete failure, as the Veterans Administration was engulfed in scandal, justifiably and for various reasons, for the entirety of his tenure at that agency.  He finally left in disgrace after serving as Secretary for just over four years.

Then there was Dennis Blair, who was Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence from 2009 – 2010.  He was a retired Navy Admiral, who served only 16 months in this Obama Administration position due to losing the confidence of the White House; his resignation was accepted by Obama even before his replacement was named.  It is thought that not only did he differ with Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense at the time, but also with John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor at the time, on terrorism policy.

General James Jones is a Marine Corps veteran of over 40 years’ service, as its Commandant, and later as the Chief of NATO, among other distinguished posts.  Unfortunately, not among these posts described as distinguished was his tenure as National Security Advisor under Barack Obama.  Though being thought of as a great military and strategic thinker, General Jones never hit it off with Obama and actively disagreed on numerous issues with the prickly White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, and thus did not have much impact in the NSA advisor position, and did not stay very long in that post.

It was said about Obama’s Generals, in principle, that they were a “listless” lot.  While military leaders are bound by the rules of chain of command to obey all directives from their Commander in Chief, they must also provide advice to their political leaders on “the facts as they understand them through the eyes of warriors.”  President Obama does not and never did think in those terms, nor does he, famously, believe in the term, or the concept, of victory.

In contrast, the excitement of the leadership emanating from the President-Elect and his Generals, and what they can accomplish, is palpable.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.