In the last two decades, the nation has seen an increased militarization as a way of preventing another major terror attack like 9/11. Police departments across the country have reinforced their arsenals with heavy war machinery, including massive armored vehicles, rolling command posts and grenade launchers.
But the shocking images in 2014 of local police looking like heavily-armed soldiers in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of a black teenager shot by a white policeman, sent a shockwave of fear among the civilian population and sparked forceful rebuke of such intimidation tactics from civil right leaders and the press.
Knowing how thin-skinned and vindictive Donald Trump is, it’s fair to ask if the President-elect’s recent moves to stack his Administration with recently-retired generals is headed down the same path. Is Donald Trump gearing up to rule the country as a dictator?
Military experts are warning that there has never been a time in modern U.S. history when a prospective commander-in-chief is considering so many generals for top jobs in his Administration and are concerned their presence could erode the tradition of civilian control of the U.S. military, especially after the President-elect said he might resume torture on suspected terrorists, including Americans.
Dave Barno, a retired Army lieutenant general cautioned that “too many generals in top spots risks having many primarily military perspectives outweigh civilian voices on issues that require a sound balance of both.”
Trump, who never served in the military and who has few foreign-policy chops, is packing his Administration with those who have spent decades saluting and carrying out orders. The growing list includes retired four-star Marine James Mattis to run the Defense Department —an appointment that will require waiving a law that the U.S. military’s civilian chief be out of uniform for at least seven years— retired Marine general John Kelly at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security, and retired Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn, to serve as national security adviser.
Flynn has aldeary shown he’s willing to follow any order, no matter how deplorable. In one tweet just before the election, Flynn passed along a link to a false Hillary Clinton sex story:
This troubles Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general who says he feels “extremely uneasy” about Gen. Michael Flynn. The national security adviser “is one of the five most powerful positions in the nation,” McCaffrey told ABC News Thursday. “If he’s not able to immediately denounce that kind of demented story, there’s something wrong and we need to examine his suitability for public office.”
McCaffrey warned: “I think that we need to aggressively examine what was going on here.”
Trump is also considering retired Army general David Petraeus and retired admiral James Stavridis to serve as Secretary of State, and Navy Admiral Mike Rogers as director of national intelligence—the nation’s top spy.
But old soldiers are not martial automatons, responding reflexively to civilian commands. By the time an officer wears four stars, he or she has spent years dealing with major strategic issues. Such experience, especially in national security matters, should prove invaluable to a President with little such background. They are far more likely to act as a brake on hare-brained orders from Trump. And we hope they can stop him from blowing up the country.