The generals supported President Trump when he enabled them to fight and win, now they attack him for upending their status quo of control.
As Trump entered his fourth year in office this January his distinctive America first foreign policy had resulted in major accomplishments for our national security. Trump defeated ISIS’s territorial caliphate, killed its leader, killed Iranian terror master Qassim Sulimani, all while beginning the process of extracting our troops from Afghanistan and precarious positions in Syria. Trump accomplished all of this while not getting the US further entrenched in more wars in the Middle East, something his post 9/11 predecessors were incapable of.
Trump’s ability to avoid new wars while ending our longest war, and focusing on major threats like China is more than just campaign talk. Trump’s business-like America first policy is a strategy that seeks to leverage the full scope of American power to meet our national security needs as opposed to solely relying on the military and military leadership as our main tool of national power.
Since 9/11 Presidents Bush and Obama focused their foreign policy efforts on terrorism and the Middle East, leaning heavily, if not entirely, on the US military to solve all of the nation’s problems in this realm. Many in the US Military have warned that there are no military solutions to these complex problems but did their utmost to complete the missions they were assigned. After nearly two decades of war, we have made little to no progress by overburdening the military with all things foreign policy and neglecting major threats to our national security.
President Trump has shown through action that he will use military force decisively and with a purpose. ISIS’s destroyed caliphate and a dead Sulimani prove as much, however Trump is rightfully skeptical of enduring military commitments building nations or remaining in harm’s way with no clear benefit for the American people.
To accomplish our national security objectives Trump prefers to use our economic power and negotiations as opposed to never ending wars and troop commitments. This commonsense and balanced approach to the use of our national power restores the military to its rightful place as a force for deterrence and limited decisive action.
Removing the military from this position of control is the retired Generals’ main issue with Trump, he is limiting the military’s power and influence. Anyone who has spent any time in D.C. knows that power and influence are king in our government, every agency is jockeying for both at all times.
Trump calling out our foolish endless wars during the 2016 campaign was the shot across the bow of things to come. Trump made it clear then that he wanted us out, but not before he crushed ISIS and stopped Iran’s uninhibited expansion. This meant Trump needed decisive military leaders ready to take the fight to ISIS and Iran on day one of the Trump administration.
To accomplish this Trump assembled the best team he could by tapping General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense, General John Kelly for Chief of Staff, General Mike Flynn and General HR McMaster as his National Security Advisors. Trump needed men who knew how to crush the caliphate that had taken over large swaths of three countries and to halt Iran’s aggressive regional expansion.
Trump chose the right men for the job; within a year the caliphate was gone and a year later Iran was reeling from the killing of their seemingly untouchable puppet master and crippling economic sanctions. Trump gave the military the decisive leadership it had been deprived of for so long.
Once ISIS was defeated Trump expressed his desire to withdraw our forces from Syria, this was when the honeymoon with the Generals ended. Mattis publicly resigned in protest and the rest found their way out while expressing what they described as their deep concern for the disruption to a status quo and a set of norms that always seemed to end up with more need for endless wars.
Make no mistake, Trump’s approach to national security is a departure from our so called norms. Trump’s approach shifts the balance of power within the Washington D.C. establishment from the military to the man the American people chose as their executive, the president.
This is why the retired Generals are aligning against Trump. They lost power and they want it back. The retired Generals want power back for the uniformed military, DOD civilians and of course, the lucrative defense contracting sector. This industry employs many former generals such as James Mattis and profits greatly when our nation is at war.
The retired generals’ agenda is obvious, with their harsh and ominous criticism of Trump they offer no new ideas for addressing our national security objectives, pretending as if everything was going smoothly for before Trump took away their influence. Thankfully, most Americans know that history did not begin in 2016 and understand the need to make change when something doesn’t work, change is blasphemy in D.C. but for most hard-working Americans it is kitchen table common sense.
Mattis chose this period of civil unrest to criticize Trump’s blunt style of communication, calling him divisive. Mattis is tactically savvy and chose a prime time to hit his old boss and received much press for speaking out. What should be noted is Trump’s consistency and the timing of Mattis’s sudden awakening.
Trump communicates the same way he did when Mattis worked for him, the only thing that has changed is Mattis’s influence. Mattis quit when Trump sought to limit the DOD’s power and influence by pulling our troops out of Syria. Now, Mattis expects the American people to heed his warning when his motivation is so clear?
The former Generals speaking out against Trump have impressive resumes and are honorable men who have served their nation for decades but if you carefully listen to their criticisms, they offer only platitudes and no solutions. Their criticism without any alternative solutions suggests that they think we’d be better with the status quo of them leading our foreign policy. No serious person believes this, especially those of us who fought in the Global War On Terror (GWOT).
The Generals take Trump’s criticism of the GWOT personally, they built their careers on fighting these wars in the top positions of our military and feel that him pointing out how little we have gained from these wars is an insult to their life’s work. As someone who also made these wars my life’s work and lost the love of my life in the war I understand that feeling, but we cannot let feelings continue to hold us hostage when the stakes are so high.
The retired Generals are products of their experience, since 9/11 our nation asked them to take the lead and they did out of a genuine commitment to our nation. If no one else is offering solutions the DOD will lead, fight, and die – indefinitely if needed. This mentality is what makes our military strong and reflects the best of our nation, but without sober, pragmatic civilian leadership, this mentality is a recipe for endless war.
As the election approaches the idea of Joe Biden returning the sacred status quo to the oval office has invigorated those who want their power back, the retired Generals and their forever war chicken hawk civilian counterparts like John Bolton and Brett McGurk.
Trump is changing how the U.S. wields power abroad and inside the beltway, his most vocal critics are those who stand to lose the most. The power to use force and protect the American people should reside with our elected officials, the president and congress, not un-elected military officials or civilian appointees. Trump’s America first policy is restoring the will of the people to our nation’s defense.
Joe Kent is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer Three. Joe spent over twenty years in Special Operations and completed eleven combat deployments. Joe is also a Gold Star husband; his wife Senior Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent was killed in 2019 conducting Special Operations against ISIS in Syria. He is also an advisory board member for Veterans and Military Families for Trump.