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Sunday, August 14, 2022

What the General Might Have Said

 In November 2019 I described an exchange with General James Mattis, who had by then resigned as Secretary of Defense, after he gave a talk at the JFK School of Government at Harvard.  That was during the crisis that led to President Trump's first impeachment, and I was concerned that men like himself--including former Secretary of State Tillerson, former National Security Adviser General McMaster, and former chief of staff John Kelly, had not told the American people more about what working in the Trump White House was like.  I did not say that I had learned in my own long association with the military--six years as an army reservist, and 20 years as a civilian faculty member at the Naval War College--that a military officer serving under a dangerously incompetent superior had not only a right, but a duty, to bring the situation to the attention of higher authority--which in this case meant Congress and the American people.  General Mattis replied in a manner leaving no doubt that he had given much thought to this question and had reached an opposite conclusion.  To speak out, he said, would violate the non-political tradition of the American  military, trained since Washington to submit to civilian authority.  And to this date none of the men I mentioned has given a remotely full account of what working for Trump was like.

The New Yorker has just published a long article, "Inside the War Between Trump and his Generals," which goes into related issues involving General Mark Milley, who remains Chairman of the JCS.  His long and difficult relationship with Trump reached a low point early in June of 2020, when he allowed himself to march across Lafayette Square with Trump after law enforcement had cleared it of Black Lives Matter protesters.  Milley then drafted a letter of resignation which the article prints in full. I reproduce it for non-commercial use only.

"I regret to inform you that I intend to resign as your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thank you for the honor of appointing me as senior ranking officer. The events of the last couple weeks have caused me to do deep soul-searching, and I can no longer faithfully support and execute your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country. I believe that you have made a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military. I thought that I could change that. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot, and I need to step aside and let someone else try to do that.

"Second, you are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people—and we are trying to protect the American people. I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people. The American people trust their military and they trust us to protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and our military will do just that. We will not turn our back on the American people.

"Third, I swore an oath to the Constitution of the United States and embodied within that Constitution is the idea that says that all men and women are created equal. All men and women are created equal, no matter who you are, whether you are white or Black, Asian, Indian, no matter the color of your skin, no matter if you’re gay, straight or something in between. It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or choose not to believe. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter what country you came from, what your last name is—what matters is we’re Americans. We’re all Americans. That under these colors of red, white, and blue—the colors that my parents fought for in World War II—means something around the world. It’s obvious to me that you don’t think of those colors the same way I do. It’s obvious to me that you don’t hold those values dear and the cause that I serve.

"And lastly it is my deeply held belief that you’re ruining the international order, and causing significant damage to our country overseas, that was fought for so hard by the Greatest Generation that they instituted in 1945. Between 1914 and 1945, 150 million people were slaughtered in the conduct of war. They were slaughtered because of tyrannies and dictatorships. That generation, like every generation, has fought against that, has fought against fascism, has fought against Nazism, has fought against extremism. It’s now obvious to me that you don’t understand that world order. You don’t understand what the war was all about. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. And I cannot be a party to that. It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation."

An election campaign was now in progress, and I still believe that Milley had an obligation both as a military officer and a citizen to make his opinions known to the whole electorate and to fill in some of the obvious blanks in his resignation letter. What had Trump said that made clear that he did not believe that all Americans were created equal?  How had he convinced Milley that he did not believe in the post-1945 international order?  And what exactly were the "many" principles to which Trump subscribed that the nation had fought against in the Second World War?  With another Trump campaign looming, these questions obviously remain critical today.

The article explains, however, that several other senior officers, former high civilian officials, and elected officials--led by former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates--talked Milley out of submitting the resignation letter and convinced him to stay to try to keep Trump from doing anything utterly disastrous.  This he tried to do.  What this shows, I think, is that our senior national security establishment still sees itself as a law unto itself, with unique responsibilities that it has no real obligation to share with ordinary citizens.  Their power depends on maintaining some relationship with the president, even if the president does not share fundamental American values.  That is emerging again now, as that same establishment apparently prepares, if necessary, to fight China over Taiwan, without seeming to address the critical question of how the American people would feel about such a war. And Anthony Blinken, in particular, continually makes it clear that everything that the United States feels is right should happen in the world, whether we have the allies, the assets, or the military force to make it happen or not.  

Our democracy depends both on an informed citizenry and on a governing elite that trusts the people. I am not sure that we have either one.  The bond between Trump and the majority of the Republican Party that constitutes his base, on the other hand, remains extremely intense, and does not seem likely to be disturbed by anything, including the results of the Mar-a-Lago raid.  That situation, alas, has some parallels to the situation in Germany in 1932.

3 comments:

Energyflow said...

Taiwan is recognized by the US de jure as Chinese while this is de facto ignored. A Chinese blockade till surrender or violent invasion would therefore pprovoke a similar break in economic relations as with the Ukraine situation and Russia. Therefore China will likely reduce its dolar assets and relations with the West slowly before taking this step in Taiwan. The concept of nation invented in the 19th century was an ethnolinguistic geographic one. Obviously this led to simplistic notions and war. Before there were broad empires with varied groupings here and there. The US is stretching itself maintaing an identity beyond basic European origins, Trump's base and the pre 60s reality, discarded by the democrats, in favor of identity politics. The establishment in general, as you observe, seems to care little what the masses prefer in warfare or in economic policy. From a study comes that only the wealthy influence politics(unless you are an 18 year old mass shooter in Texas). Donate and lobby and get results. Raytheon, pharma companies promote bombs and drugs and the US has the largest military and bloated medical on earth. This is plutocracy, not democracy or republican govt. The reality of the relation between USD as reserve currency, fiscal and trade debt is clear. The Chinese President visited Saudi Arabia recently. Do they take Yuan? Since confiscating 300 billion of Russian bank reserves trust in Western system is gone in the world. The pot-war order is based on outdated systems, values, populations. The UN is to be replaced by a super Nato and A Eurasian bloc, militarily and financially, apparently. If Europe gets squeezed in the middle maybe it will switch sides. Trump is obviously trying to look beyond the narrow narrative provided in civics class 101, to get a new stability. The Neocon concept is to do to China/Russia the same as with Japan/ Germany. Clearly diplomacy, military reduction would be better but raytheon lobbyists...

Bozon said...

Professor
Great post.

Rather than get into the intricacies of who is a more real democrat with more natural equal global rights, or which generation here or anywhere was the best in history, why not refer to Clark's Critical Edition of Burke's Reflections, Introduction, pb, circa pg.52 plus or minus 2 pages?

Two things emerge, comparing revolutionary France with the US as of, say, Jan 6:
1. The Revolution was more violent more early than later liberal Whiggish historiography painted it.
2. Military discipline in the French Army had disintegrated and was of little or no use to the monarchy in 1789.

The Minister of War's Report of July, 1790 to the Assembly declared that an insubordinate army would create a military democracy and force the officers to emigrate; officers did emigrate in great numbers after Louis's failed flight in June 1791.

The analogy to the large scale movement here, related to Black Lives Matter, in the first instance heavily promoted by the NYT, to permanently disband local police forces nationwide, and to refrain from ever calling in either the military or the National Guard, is striking.

All the best

Jude Hammerle said...

Dear Dr. Kaiser,

I'm sure you read the riveting transcript in the prologue of Peril (Woodward/Costa, 2021) presenting Pelosi's brilliant January 2021 grilling of Milley about precautions that would prevent an unstable president from deploying wmds or any use of force for personal reasons. Milley agreed with her on every point she made but his ultimate response was weak: "Trust Me." After realizing that the Speaker deserved better, he apparently, finally, "pulled a Schlesinger." All in secret, of course--to your point.

All the Best,
Jude Hammerle