Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Generals Are Coming

As of now, senior figures in the Democratic party have mostly kept their distance from the calls for recounts and the efforts to influence wavering electors. They have been attacked for looking weak. So said Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen in the  New York Times.

As it happens, the Obama administration has projected nothing but weakness for these past years, so, what did they expect? Even Lithwick and Cohen believe that fighting means taking things to court. 

As for the American people, they have been voting for Republicans because they have been voting against weakness. When given the choice between a woman who had accomplished very little and a man who had no political experience but who projected toughness, the American people chose tough. And they chose it even though there was no evidence that Trump knew enough about policy to apply his toughness effectively and wisely.

I would add that if Democrats believed they had any chance at all of overturning the election results they would happily have joined the fray. They are hugging the sidelines because they do not want to fight for yet another losing cause.

Criticism of Trump has been shrill and intemperate. One should not be overly surprised. After all, Trump did not run his campaign on propriety and decorum. For now Democrats seem to be especially concerned that the president-elect has been nominating too many generals and too many CEOs as cabinet secretaries and White House advisers.

Of course, other presidents have done the same and have done it often. Wouldn’t a general be best qualified to manage a large government agency or to formulate and implement policy? That’s what generals do, and they certainly do it better than law professors or even members of Congress.

Victor Davis Hanson lists many of the generals who were appointed to high ranking positions in previous administrations. As he points out, no one blinked when Barack Obama appointed generals to high office:

Did anyone complain when Barack Obama appointed five retired generals and one retired admiral to either Cabinet posts or high-ranking positions in his administration? In fact, Flynn and Petraeus were first appointed to high office by Obama.

Under Obama, Petraeus became CIA director. Flynn served as Obama’s director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Retired general Eric Shinseki was head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Retired general James Jones was national security adviser. Retired admiral Dennis Blair and retired general James Clapper served as successive directors of national intelligence.

Of course, those who believe that Trump is a fascist militarist insist that his appointments deserve special consideration. When you believe in a narrative you will cherry-pick facts that affirm it and ignore any realities that disprove it.

Those who are trying to make political points against Trump’s generals have been arguing that generals are warmongers and that they are likely to get us into another war. Anti-warism is an article of faith on America’s political left.

One might retort that our current anti-war president indirectly produced the catastrophe that is taking place in Aleppo, Syria today. If you think that anti-war is always a good policy, take a look at what is happening in Aleppo.

As it happened, Hanson points out, most of our unsuccessful wars have been engaged and directed by civilians. One knows that Dwight Eisenhower refused to get involved militarily in Indochina—aka Vietnam—while John Kennedy and the best and the brightest rushed in.

In Hanson’s words:

The chief complaint about Trump’s appointments is that too many generals will mean too great a likelihood of war. Historical evidence points to the opposite conclusion. Generals were not the proverbial “best and brightest” who argued for military intervention in Vietnam, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, or the bombing of Libya in 2011.

In a famous example of a civilian-military paradox, President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright, scolded Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell in 1993 for not being more eager to send troops into the Balkans. “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Albright asked Powell.
But, what about the CEOs. They draw special attention and scrutiny because they are supposed to be greedy capitalists, men only care about making money, regardless of who gets hurt. One recalls that when John Kennedy made Robert McNamara the Secretary of Defense, no one complained that he was a greedy capitalist who had no experience in government.

Then again, everyone loves the tech oligarchs of Silicon Valley and they are far wealthier than today’s industrialists. But, they have been notably and ideologically to the left of center. And we know that their clean companies do not produce as much pollution as, say, an oil company.

We will be interested to see whether the tech oligarchs discover the virtues of Republican rule. Could it be that they promoted progressive causes because it gained them access to the Obama White House?

As for the CEOs of major international corporations, they also have considerable management experience. Doesn’t Rex Tillerson have more experience than most in negotiating with foreign governments? Does he know more or less than a foreign policy wonk? Or an American senator? Certainly, he knows the players and has had dealings with them.

Conducting policy involve much more than tossing around big ideas. The same applies to any management job. It involves dealing with human beings, developing relationships with them, earning their respect and attention. The party that touted its "Reset" with Russia is not saying that working with Vladimir Putin makes you deplorable.

Besides, how did anyone imagine that Hillary Clinton was qualified, in any sense of the word, to be Secretary of State or President of the United States?

In some ways the same principle applied to Barack Obama. And one must add that Donald Trump, lacking experience in government, was less than qualified to take over the office of the American presidency.

In regard to Obama, Hanson makes this point:

Far more worrisome is the tired presidential custom of relying on ex-senators and politicians with law degrees to fill important executive positions despite their lack of outside-the-Beltway administrative experience.

In 2008, Obama’s résumé consisted mainly of having been a Harvard Law School grad and, briefly, a U.S. senator. No wonder he looked to people with similar backgrounds for some key appointments — former senator and lawyer Joe Biden as vice president, former senator and lawyer Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and later, former senator and lawyer John Kerry as secretary of state.

Here I would add that generals and the CEOs are not beholden to a political party. Their careers have not been driven by ideology. They, like Trump himself, have views that sometimes lean left and sometimes lean right. They know how to drive a policy but they have not gotten where they are by basing policy on ideology.

As you know, those who oppose Trump believe that he is a lying fascist, someone who has no regard for facts. They believe that he is in it for himself and does not care about the nation or its people. He seemed to have run a campaign on the basis of his oversized personality.

It is not an illegitimate concern. And yet, Trump has been giving high administration jobs to people who are not likely to kowtow to the Donald. Generals and CEOs are not likely to let themselves be pushed around. 

Trump has given jobs to competent managers, people with experience, people whose loyalty is not to party of ideology. One hopes that Trump will continue to sound more humble than he did during the campaign.

As for the charge that Trump ignores facts, that is, that he tells lies, we recall the many lies told by Barack Obama, but most people do not want to speak of them. In larger part, politicians and intellectuals and media titans are far more likely to ignore facts than are real estate developers, generals or CEOs.

By definition, ideologues are not in the business of collecting facts and appraising conditions on the ground. They are in the business of persuading you to think the way they think and to vote the way they want you to vote.

With his recent appointments, especially the generals and CEOs, Trump has been putting one kind of loyalty ahead of another. He has valued people who are loyal to their nation or who have shown loyalty to their company. They are not ideologues and have no real party affiliation.

If you are committed to an ideology, this is very bad news indeed. The same applies if you define yourself in terms of party affiliation and party loyalty. Some time ago Harvard Law Professor and former Obama administration czar Cass Sunstein bemoaned the fact that America was more divided by party than on racial or ethnic grounds. People now tend to hate members of the other political party with a fury that knows no bounds.

It’s obviously very tribal behavior. Partyism disparages national pride in favor of winning or losing in the struggle against the other party. It does not see us all as Americans, but it sees us as Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. We do not have honest disagreements and do not respect the loyal opposition. We prefer to believe that our opponents are destroying the nation and the world. We affirm our identity by treating them with the utmost contempt and by doing everything in our power to destroy them.

Party loyalty, Sunstein was suggesting, has replaced national loyalty. This makes it nearly impossible for the government to get anything done. After all, if one party will gain credit for a policy then the other party will be hurt.

Some politicians pay lip service to the idea that they want the president to succeed. Yet, people who identify with one party want the opposing party to fail because it will advance their cause. The notion of what’s good for America has long since been sacrificed on the bonfire of the ideological vanities. Many people voted for Donald Trump because they wanted to vote for national unity and against factionalism.

If one were to prescribe a treatment for partyism, one would start with an administration whose most powerful figures were not beholden to a political party or to an ideology.


Sam L. said...

" Some time ago Harvard Law Professor and former Obama administration czar Cass Sunstein bemoaned the fact that America was more divided by party than on racial or ethnic grounds. People now tend to hate members of the other political party with a fury that knows no bounds."

Just a thought, here: Could it be that Republicans are sick and tired of the Democrats demonizing them? And dissing the residents of Flyoverlandia? I quote Bugs Bunny:
"Couuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuld be!"

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: As for the American people, they have been voting for Republicans because they have been voting against weakness. When given the choice between a woman who had accomplished very little and a man who had no political experience but who projected toughness, the American people chose tough. And they chose it even though there was no evidence that Trump knew enough about policy to apply his toughness effectively and wisely.

At least we know the second part is true. And apparently what makes Trump tough is he is willing to make any empty boast to sound tough, and he's so tough he can confess all his transgressions after he's won, so CERTAIN, that the 306 Republican electors will stay loyal to a serial liar.

Trevor Noah showed Trump's magic from his victory tour.
Trump on the Republican primary system being rigged in May, as he secured the party’s nomination: "You’ve been hearing me say it’s a rigged system. But now I don’t say it anymore because I won. Okay? It’s true. You know, now I don’t care."

Trump on his promise to prosecute Hillary Clinton and "lock her up": "Forget it. That plays great before the election. Now we don’t care, right?"

Trump on his slogan to "drain the swamp": "Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it? I tell everyone: I hated it! Somebody said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey. That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right. I’ll try it.’ So like a month ago, I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’ The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa. Watch this.’ Then I said it again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it, I started loving it."

But even going back to last January, at the Iowa Caucuses, he was shameless, like his greed:
“Now, I’ll tell you, I’m good at that – so, you know, I’ve always taken in money,” he said at a rally in Iowa. “I like money. I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person. I shouldn’t tell you that, I’m a greedy – I’ve always been greedy. I love money, right? But, you know what? I want to be greedy for our country. I want to be greedy. I want to be so greedy for our country. I want to take back money.”

What the hell does that mean? He wants to be greedy for US? I mean this is the sort of speech one of my Viking ancestors gave, before they became christianized. We're basically going to loot the the entire world, but its okay, because you'll get your share of the loot. And we've got the most expensive military in the world by a factor of 10 or more, so who is going to stop us?

And Trump boasts that exactly as well:
ne of the recurring themes of Donald Trump’s national security strategy is his plan to “take the oil” in Iraq and from areas controlled by Islamic State (Isis) extremists. It would drain Isis’s coffers and reimburse the US for the costs of its military commitments in the Middle East, the candidate insists.

At a forum hosted by NBC on 7 September, Trump suggested oil seizure would have been a way to pay for the Iraq war, saying: “We go in, we spend $3tn, we lose thousands and thousands of lives, and then … what happens is we get nothing. You know, it used to be to the victor belong the spoils.”

He added: “One of the benefits we would have had if we took the oil is Isis would not have been able to take oil and use that oil to fuel themselves.”

That's what strength looks like. Do what you want, say anything, and use power to take from others who can't defend themselves. Its like police coming into a neighborhood and demanding "protection fees", and then letting criminals do what they want to those unprotected, but taking a cut of the criminals loot as well.

This is what being tough looks like, and its all Obama's fault, because he didn't start enough new trillion dollar wars.

Trump's only ideology is greed and bullying, what could go wrong?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

So glad you're here, Ares. Always.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the neo cons say in 2003 that ME oil would fund the war? Or am I mistaken?

I was a neo con with the old dogs. Kristol, Podhoretz, Kirkpatrick, et. al. The new dogs stink.

I agree, Dr. S. Trump might be a huckster, prevaricator, whatever.

But I believe he loves America. Even more than his personal wealth - but the country's success will bolster it. Probably. If the lawyers don't defenestrate him with "Conflict of Interest".

He's a showman. A Good Communicator if you will. Most Ams "get" him. They "get" the word greed, as he employs it. They like it.

I'm not too haughty to admit I enjoy his speeches, interviews, town halls.

Dogma & Ideology are poison. Orwell: "The smelly little orthodoxies.. Parlor Bolsheviks" ... among other gems.

You know the funny snide story. Englishman - It Works! Frenchman - But does it work In Theory???

Watching "Versailles". Love it. You? -- Rich Lara

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. If you like geopolitics and smart Generals, Jim Rickards thinks Trump can't do worse than Obama, although I thought everyone agreed that Clinton was the NeoCon, while Trump was just Neo Hotair?
President Obama has conducted the most deleterious foreign policy of any U.S. president since Woodrow Wilson. This is not due just to a dead ambassador on the streets of Benghazi, a phony red line in Syria which led to 400,000 dead, two million wounded, and two million refugees, losing Egypt to Islamic radicals, or empowering a terrorist regime in Iran. Those developments alone are enough to rank Obama among the worst foreign policy presidents. Obama’s most egregious error is far worse – his inability to grasp the balance-of-power dynamics among the U.S., Russia and China. Yet, Obama’s blunder is Trump’s opening to rescue U.S. foreign policy from grave weakness, and restore U.S. leadership to the world.
Obama subscribed to a post-national globalist ideology, which finds no correlative in the real world outside of faculty lounges and Georgetown salons. In Obama’s worldview, nation states are a problem, not a solution. Global goals on issues like climate change, trade, the OECD’s world tax program, and the IMFs world money program require global institutions. Nation states are temporary impediments until global governance can be built through non-democratic transnational institutions.

Meanwhile, Russia and China never lost sight of their national interests. While their leaders dutifully attend the same multilateral venues as Obama, such as the G20, IMF, and regional summits, they persistently put Russia and China first. For Russia and China, the world is a dangerous place in which national interest is advanced ruthlessly; not Obama’s Kumbaya-laced globalist fantasy of one world order.
Fortunately it’s not too late to reestablish a balance of power that favors the United States. China is a rising regional hegemon that should be constrained. Russia is a natural ally that should be empowered. The U.S. has blundered in its foreign policy for the past eight years. A new Trump administration has an opportunity to reverse those blunders by building bridges to Russia, and it seems to be moving in that direction.

Dennis said...

Rich Lara,

Glad to see that you are commenting more. I always enjoy your take.

Anonymous said...

Thanx, Dennis. I'm retired. I served & worked for the US Military my whole career. In VN, under then-COL George Patton, Jr.

Final 20 years as Speechwriter, GS-9. Spent $K's on books. Had a personal library. Section on ME & Islam.

Couldn't believe the feckless ignorance of our leaders after 9/11.

Still mourn The Civil War. Love America. I'm Mexican-Polish. Thanx, again. -- Rich Lara

Dennis said...


We have a lot in common. I can understand the love of books. When I retired I had a considerable library in the basement. Gave a lot of books to local libraries and have to admit it hurt my soul to have to throwaway a significant number of books. Still give a lot of books to the local Library system here.
Spent a lot of time in the first Dod Career program, "Quality Assurance Specialist Ammunition Surveillance." Stayed at the school to research the Hazardous Classification of United States Military Explosives and Hazardous Munitions. Eventually moved to an R&D program as a Program Analyst.

Take care and keep commenting.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Rich Lara @December 16, 2016 at 9:24 AM:

"Still mourn The Civil War."

I'm very curious about this, Rich. Please elaborate.