We had many indications during the 2016 campaign that a Donald Trump presidency would be bad for civil-military relations. The candidate hurled insults at prisoners of war and Gold Star family amembers, said America’s generals had been “reduced to rubble” under Presidents Bush and Obama, and signaled that he would neither respect civil-military norms nor bring with him into office any adherence to longstanding American foreign policy views.
It’s clear now that these signals failed to fully prophesize how bad civil-military relations would become under President Trump. Few laws constrain the president in this realm: He must do what he (or someday she) believes is right for the nation’s defense, its military, and society. Unfortunately, as both Jack Goldsmith and I have noted, Trump has shredded one civil-military relations norm after another. These include, but are not limited to, appointing a disproportionate share of senior military officers to high posts; blaming the generals for a risky raid in Yemen that Trump himself ordered; politicking before military audiences; battling with the intelligence community (which is inextricably intertwined with the military through defense agencies like DIA and NSA); deploying his chief of staff (retired Marine Gen. John Kelly) to attack a Congresswoman over handling of a bereaved Army widow; tweeting uncoordinated orders banning transgender troops; and encouraging troops to join the political fray on Trump’s side. And now, to top it all off, Trump now wants a military parade, something that will politicize the military even more.
Read the full article in Lawfare.
More from CNAS
CommentaryHarnessing Military Talent to Compete in the 21st Century
Developments in technology mean that the DoD must update its processes to attract, recruit, and harness talent to apply skill sets where they are most needed....
By Emma Moore
CommentaryIf the Military Can't Handle Its Sexual Assault Problem, Congress Needs to Step In
Should the DoD continue failing at comprehensively and effectively addressing sexual violence, Congress must intervene more robustly....
By Katie Galgano & Emma Moore
CommentaryWhat Leaders Can Do Now To Strengthen U.S. Special Operations Forces
Improving performance of SOF teams themselves is necessary to fully leverage the attributes and potential of SOF in future missions....
By Lt Col Stewart J. Parker & Emma Moore
CommentaryThe All-Volunteer Force: Civil-Military Relations Hit Home—and Abroad
Tensions in the civil-military relationship threaten national security from conflicts abroad to cities across the United States....
By Nathalie Grogan