As I have watched the unfolding of the selection of various Cabinet and high-ranking officials in the new administration, I find I have a General concern about three of them.
Three generals have been selected so far, and more could be tapped. In general principle, I do not have an issue with the selection of military officers for Cabinet and other positions. But I have concerns with aspects of these three.
The selection of Lt. General Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor concerns me, on a couple of fronts. First, his anti-Muslim views are too broad and run the risk of isolating the US from the world Islamic community. I get that we are fighting radical Islam, and that the failure of the current administration to use that term has galled a number of people. Still, there are millions of Muslims that are not radical, not terrorist, not beyond the pale of our connecting. It doesn’t appear that LTG Flynn has that nuance in his view, and that is a concern. Second, his experience with Islam has been as a warfighter, which may not transition well to dealing with the diplomatic aspects of national security. And then there are issues of managerial style, handling of classified information, and a tendency to alt-right positions.
The selection of General John Kelly for DHS is also disconcerting. The DHS is a disparate, civilian, law-enforcement focused agency with a bad morale problem. While a highly successful Marine Corps general, Kelly is a combat commander. How that skill set will mesh with an organization that includes the US Secret Service, TSA, ICE, CBP,and FEMA, among others, will be challenging. An individual with law enforcement experience would seem to be a more logical choice, or even a head of a multinational conglomerate where diplomacy and politics help make an organization operate.
The selection of a Warrior Monk to run the Pentagon would, at first blush, seem to be a smart option. General James Mattis is a highly successful, highly regarded (almost worshiped) combat general with a reputation as a great leader and great thinker. The role of Secretary of Defense should, however, be a civilian in order to provide the proper checks and balances on military authority, to ensure the realization of civilian control over military matters. And least any think that clash doesn’t happen, remember Truman dropping McArthur because the general forgot that it was the President who made decisions.
Finally, all three are veterans of the long war in southern Asia. The military, and indeed the government, tends to focus on getting the last war right and learning the lessons from it, and not so much learning how to prepare for the next one. While we need to end this conflict and prepare to solve the accompanying mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, we also need to be prepared for the cyberwar that is coming, for dealing with the next generation of warfare and challenges. None, including Flynn, are heavily focused on cyber. Or Russia. Or China. And if these leaders aren’t focused on these areas, how will they be able to advise their newly elected boss?
Time will tell.