Saturday, November 26, 2016

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, (General, USMC, Retired): Can He Be A Civilian Leader?
David S. Maxwell
Because I do not have Erin Simpson’s experience with General Mattis, I am not as qualified to comment as she is on whether he should or should not be named as the next Secretary of Defense.  I only know him through reputation, recent histories of the war on terrorism, and the many stories and anecdotes from those who have served with him.  I heard him speak at a single conference where he lamented the dearth of strategic thinking in the US military and our national security apparatus.  This comment has remained on my mind ever since I have heard it and I repeat it often to students to challenge them to prove General Mattis wrong.  But that is the extent of my experience with him.
Dr. Simpson makes some excellent arguments as to why he should not be nominated and if appointed why he should decline.  Of all her excellent arguments there is one that I must take exception to and I ask this question: If a President Trump will not listen to General Mattis to whom will he listen?
Given the assessments of the President-elect, if accurate, (and the truth is we have no idea what he is really like, how he will govern, and how he will lead when he takes office) I wonder if General Mattis is not our last best hope to bring measured leadership and strategic thinking to the national security apparatus of the new administration?  If that is the case then I hope that General Mattis will do as those who are committed to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States would:  If asked, serve.
We should also question some of the arguments against having General Mattis or any former general officer serve as Secretary of Defense.  We should cast out two myths – one is that a general is pre-disposed to the use of the military instrument of power as a first choice and the other is that a general, having seen the costs of war, is less likely to use the military instrument of power.  Generals are no more or less likely to follow either course of action as any other competent strategic thinker, either civilian or military.  They are neither warmongers nor peaceniks.  It does a disservice to “generalize” about the mindset of former general officers.  To take such an argument to absurdity, perhaps we should not allow lawyers to become judges.  We should never allow those who have served at the highest levels of the Justice Department to become Supreme Court Justices.  Should we disqualify a general officer who possesses the intellect, leadership ability, and experience to continue to serve at the highest levels of defense and national security simply because he was a general officer?
Our Congress must have had reason to enact a prohibition against any active duty commissioned officer (not just a general officer) from becoming Secretary of Defense for seven years after the officer left active service.  As we know General George Marshall was named Secretary of Defense and served in that capacity for a short time under President Truman (and at the time the prohibition was ten years).  Perhaps it was for reasons of civilian control of the military (which I will address subsequently) or that for some reason a retired general officer might be too close to current serving officers and thus there could be perceptions of conflicts of interest or favoritism.  A study as to why this prohibition was enacted would be probably be a good research paper for a graduate student in security studies or a law student studying national security law.  However, the important question is why Congress did not completely ban all former active duty officers from ever serving as Secretary of Defense and why they reduced the restriction from ten years to seven years?  Perhaps it is because there are Congressmen who recognize that former general officers can make important contributions and may have the requisite skills and experience to serve in that capacity (though of course some may not).  If they are allowed to serve after seven years, why not after five years, especially if a general is of extraordinary character and caliber?

(Continued at the link below)

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