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Trump’s Generals and Our Militarized Foreign Policy

Gordon Adams sees [1] real problems in having at least two and possibly more ex-generals in key national security positions:

The fundamental bias — and a necessary bias — of trained officers is to create a military and to advise civilians about the contribution of that military to national security policy. It is a military mindset, a necessary part of their professional expertise, and borne of years of training and education. But it is not a balanced view of how the United States should engage the world. As such, the military paradigm is likely to be the dominant narrative, to the detriment of broader thinking about statecraft. That paradigm focuses on solutions to tactical and strategic problems but not on the nuances of managing intractable international issues.

U.S. foreign policy has already become overly militarized during the last fifteen years of warfare, and there is already a very strong bias in favor of (military) action in our policy debates, so it is fair to be concerned that putting former generals in major policymaking roles can only reinforce both. The problem is not that they will necessarily make the U.S. more likely to take military action in each instance, but that they will tend to view all crises and conflicts through the lens that they have been trained to use. The U.S. already gives short shrift to and spends comparatively little on non-military responses to problems overseas, and putting former generals in top positions makes it likely that this won’t change for the better. This is especially true when one of the former generals in question believes [2] that the U.S. is engaged [3] in a “global war” [4] that will last decades and another has a decades-long grudge [5] against another state.

Adams concludes:

Generals — even retired ones — should advise, not make policy. A successful national security policy depends on restoring the civil-military balance that has been lost in the lopsided approach of the last 15 years, one that has clearly failed to the detriment of U.S. security. Our civilian national security institutions need reinforcement to help restore that balance; but with two generals in place and a possible third to come, it is very late in the day to restore this important equity.

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6 Comments To "Trump’s Generals and Our Militarized Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By Viriato On December 5, 2016 @ 10:10 am

I’m not sure I buy this. Generrals are usually more reluctant to use force than civilians, because generals know what it means to use force. Remember Madeline Albright’s infamous remark to Colin Powell: “What are we saying we have this great military for, General, if we can’t use it?”

#2 Comment By KXB On December 5, 2016 @ 10:56 am

Generals may be reluctant to use force, but they are also reluctant to cut losses and leave, even when evidence suggests that more military investment will not yield positive outcomes. The US military still believes it is contributing to stability in Afghanistan.

#3 Comment By Captain P On December 5, 2016 @ 11:01 am

The “national security establishment” that’s been getting us embroiled in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen has been overwhelmingly civilian. It’s well-known that almost none of Cheney’s neocon cabal had any military experience, and the same was true with Hillary’s crew that ran most of Obama’s foreign policy. Having a strong anti-interventionist civilian team to run Trump’s foreign policy would be ideal, but failing that, I think Mattis is the next best option. He’ll have the credibility and guts to shore up Trump’s skepticism towards getting involved in “humanitarian intervention” or “democracy promotion” in the Middle East when The Blob comes in with their moralistic lectures.

#4 Comment By Uncle Billy On December 5, 2016 @ 11:10 am

The “Warrior Monk” may be more reluctant to commit to the use of force than civilian officials, given that he has seen close up what happens when there is violence. That being said, once we are committed, he may be more inclined to escalate to resolve the issue in question.

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Avoid conflict if at all possible. Do not look for trouble. But if we are unfortunate enough to be in a conflict, then resolve it by any means necessary.

#5 Comment By Awaiting Transfer On December 5, 2016 @ 11:54 am

Mattis has actually testified before Congress in favor of full funding of the US’s diplomatic apparatus:

“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

#6 Comment By rayray On December 5, 2016 @ 12:11 pm

I think it’s well put that the military brass needs to do two things, keep the funding flowing to the military, which is justified by winning conflicts.

So there has to be SOME conflict, the military needs to justify the breathtaking expense of keeping itself alive…but it doesn’t want to engage in conflicts that look like no win situations, and thus reduce prestige.

thus the Colin Powell principle of going in with overwhelming force; racking up a quick win on the board, and getting out before anyone realizes that was probably a stupid idea in the first place…

…since the vast majority of all our overseas conflict is fairly stupid.