What can you do with a general When he stops being a general? Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?
Who’s got a job for a general When he stops being a general? They all get a job but a general no one hires…
These lyrics from the old movie White Christmassound particularly relevant now. President-elect Donald Trump has no trouble figuring out what to do with generals. He’s nominated two already, both retired Marine Corps four-stars, to the two top national security jobs. Jim Mattis to Defense, John Kelly to Homeland Security. They commanded Central and Southern Commands respectively.
Also on the roster is retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, nominated for national security advisor. Retired Army four-star Gen. David Petraeus apparently remains in the running for Secretary of State. It all adds up to potentially 15 stars worth of generals.
When Trump announced Kelly, the latest nominee, editorial writers and TV talking heads immediately started to proverbially and literally squirm. So many generals. Their implied question boils down to whether Trump is creating an overly militaristic administration and thereby eroding a powerful tradition of civilian control. Put another way, you can take the man out of the military but you can’t take the military out of the man.
Perhaps, but I cite three historical names that refute the notion: George Washington, George C. Marshall, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. I’ll skip the history lesson, but all three showed how military experience at a high level can positively inform decisions made as civilians. Marshall, the first five-star general, served as secretary of State and was responsible for the still-admired Marshall plan for helping rebuild Europe.
The growing roster of appointments has its novelties. For instance, former entertainment magnate Linda McMahon for Small Business Administration. Her husband, Vince McMahon, I’ve discovered through this Forbes account, had his head shaved in a WWE ring spectacle some years ago — the electric shaver wielded by Donald Trump! True, in the McMahon world, everyone is either a superstar or a legend. On the other hand, Linda and Vince did manage to bootstrap a small, regional company into one with an estimated market capitalization of $1.5 billion.
If he’s confirmed as Secretary of Defense, my sense of Mattis says service chiefs would have a hard time snowing him on budget requests and platform requirements. Plus he’s known to have a good touch with the troops. Kelly would come into DHS with experience directing and managing a large bureaucracy and how to delegate authority. He could move along the DHS strategy of unifying the many disparate components, at least their back-office functions.
No one can say whether the retired military nominations are horrible or the best thing since Henry Knox. But you can’t tell solely by the stars.