FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”

Photo by Ninian Reid | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ninian Reid | CC BY 2.0

President-elect Donald Trump probably never read Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey’s “Seven Days in May” in 1962 and never saw John Frankenheimer’s film version in 1964, which dealt with the threat of a military coup due to opposition to a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  President John F. Kennedy read the book after the Cuban missile crisis and found the scenario credible, probably because of the opposition and bizarre antics of Air Force Chief of Staff, General Curtis LeMay, during the crisis.  Perhaps Donald Trump should become familiar with the book or the movie before he names one more retired general to his national security team.

In a very few weeks, Trump has surrounded himself with a group of erratic advisers and has appointed several pugnacious and partisan figures to key national security positions.  As a result, the appointment of retired Marine General James Mattis has been welcomed by the mainstream media, including the staid New York Times.  The media’s consensus appears to be that, since Mattis, a four-star general, once outranked the controversial national security advisor, General Michael Flynn, a three-star, and, unlike the president-elect, actually reads and collects books that he will bring a voice of reason to the policymaking circle in the White House.  Not so fast!

What Trump has done since his election one month ago is to threaten the balance that is needed between the civilian and military communities in national security decision making and to threaten civilian control over the military that has been in place since the Founding Fathers made it so.  Over the past forty years, we have watched the military lose wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, while the Pentagon has accumulated greater influence over foreign policy.  Since the creation of the all-volunteer military in the 1970s, the military has drifted too far away from the norms of American society, has become inordinately right-wing politically, and has become much more religious (and fundamentalist) than the country as a whole.  Over the past several decades, the officer corps has actively opposed the service of African-Americans, women, and gays in their ranks. Anyone familiar with the military can testify to the “Republicanization” of the officer corps.

The often ignored Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986 enhanced the political and military role of regional commanders-in-chief (CINCs) and marginalized the Department of State and the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense.  The CINCs have become more influential than U.S. ambassadors, who actually represent the interests of the President, and various assistant secretaries of state responsible for sensitive Third World areas.  The act created a more powerful Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and made the chairman of the JCS the key military advisor to the president. During Desert Storm in 1991, the chairman often ignored the secretary of defense and personally briefed the president on war plans.  It is noteworthy that the act passed the Senate without genuine debate and not even one vote of opposition.

President Bill Clinton made major contributions to the civilian-military imbalance in the 1990s, when he abolished the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the United States Information Service and substantially reduced funding for the Agency for International Development.  Clinton also bowed to the opposition of the Pentagon when he walked away from international agreements that supported the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, the ban on cluster bombs, and the ban on land mines.

President Barack Obama also tilted in the direction of the military in making key national security appointments.  His national security adviser was a retired Marine General, James Jones, who failed miserably, and his first intelligence tsar was Admiral Dennis Blair, who also failed.  Jones was replaced by Tom Donilon, whose expertise was in domestic affairs and who couldn’t stand up to the Pentagon in decision making on Iraq and Afghanistan.  Obama’s unwise decision to retain Robert M. Gates as secretary of defense also catered to the interests and preferences of the JCS.  The president seemed to have no concern for Gates’s Cold War ideology, let alone his politicization of intelligence on behalf of the Reagan administration throughout the 1980s.  When Obama appointed General David Petraeus director of the CIA, the militarization of the intelligence community was virtually complete.

During Obama’s presidency, the Pentagon has taken control over security aid to foreign countries, including allied nations overseas, which was once the province of the Department of State.  The Pentagon has permanent control over certain aid programs and, by virtue of its counterterrorism activities in more than 80 countries, has greater control over U.S. policy options.  Once upon a time, the Department of State and the Agency for International Development controlled foreign aid; today the Pentagon can claim the title.  Instead of building up foreign militaries, the Pentagon is far more concerned with assistance in assuring U.S. troop readiness.

In view of the international problems that will confront the new president and his national security team throughout the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, let alone bilateral relations with Russia, China and North Korea, it is worrisome that a purely military and authoritarian cast will be making key decisions.  There is an important role for negotiation and diplomacy, including coercive diplomacy, in virtually every geopolitical challenge, but the president-elect has no interest in searching these fields for expertise.  Similarly he will be making important decisions on defense spending and weapons acquisition, depending on advisors and cabinet secretaries who never have enough financial resources or weaponry.

There is the additional danger that Generals Flynn and Mattis will reinforce the president-elect’s “garrison mentality,” the notion of Fortress America, which is strategically insolvent and could become economically stagnant.  American use of force since the end of the Cold War has served only to weaken the nation, draining resources, and costing the lives of far too many fighting men and women.  It isn’t reasonable to assume that the authoritarian style of the senior officer class will reverse these trends.

General James Mattis will need a waiver from both the Senate and the House of Representatives in order to be confirmed as secretary of defense.  Since the Department of Defense was created in 1947, only one general, George C. Marshall, has received such a waiver.  Mattis should not be confused with George C. Marshall.

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA, National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism, and Whistleblower at the CIA: An Insider’s Account of the Politics of Intelligence.  His forthcoming book is American Carnage: Donald Trump’s War on Intelligence.  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail