Dr. Earl Tilford
Special to Valley News
Some seem to believe the election of Donald Trump reflects a general disintegration of American society evidenced by Time magazine’s selection of Trump as “Person of the Year” presiding over a “Divided States of America.” Traditionalist pundits like Christiane Amanpour, who recently melted down over Trump’s election, never fully comprehended American stalwarts like Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham.
During the Obama administration, the efficacy of political dialogue disintegrated into heated exchanges. Most recently demonstrated when Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri clashed with Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway during the early December conference reviewing the presidential race. Decades of political correctness rendered a semantic postmodern world reminiscent of ancient societies after the collapsed Tower of Babel obliterated commonly accepted verbal understandings.
For president-elect Trump, talk is not simply communication but a prelude to action. Therefore, the political left gasps as Trump abjures subtle forms of persuasion to make decisive political decisions heralding impending action with little to no regard about how the left feels about it. Who better to lead the charge than military and business leaders inured to acting decisively? Enter the generals and successful business executives with global corporate interests.
Some lawmakers, former diplomats, and past national security experts seem concerned about the appointments of retired general officers to high positions in the Trump administration. The inexorable relationship between policy, diplomacy, and war undergirds the validity of these appointments. Here’s why:
Recent presidents have relied on retired generals for top national security posts. Richard Nixon placed General Alexander Haig on his national security staff. George H. W. Bush filled the national security spot with retired Air Force General Brent Scowcroft. George W. Bush turned to President Ronald Reagan’s three-star national security adviser, Army General Colin Powell for secretary of state. All these men served their presidents and the nation well, each far better than the immediate past secretary of state who abhorred the American military, and her successor who, in his Navy fatigues, testified to witnessing “atrocities worthy of Genghis Khan” during the Vietnam Veterans Against the War’s Winter Soldier’s Trials of January and February 1971.
Retired Marine General James Mattis, nominated as Secretary of Defense, proved to be both a warrior scholar and great battlefield commander. While one can argue he was not a policymaker, Mattis and retired General David Petraeus, who may yet participate in the Trump administration, pacified Iraq’s Al Anbar province using limited military force and significant political maneuvering to win over Sunni tribal leaders. Furthermore, as secretary of defense, Mattis must rebuild the American military, a restoration needed after 15 years of combat and eight years of budgetary neglect. The Department of Defense is a bloated bureaucratic monster with a 1.1 million civilian bureaucratic hilt supporting a 1.2 million uniformed warfighting blade. Mattis must—and will—shorten the hilt while extending and sharpening the blade. Additionally, our armed forces need an injection of warrior spirit to overcome eight years of swilling politically correct pabulum. An effective military force must be led, not managed.
Retired Army General Michael T. Flynn will serve as national security adviser. Flynn capped his intelligence career as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired after President Obama ignored his advice concerning the growth of ISIS and the increasing strategic threat posed by China and disintegrating relations with Russia. Integrity is as essential to effective intelligence as military credibility is to deterrence. Trump and Flynn will provide American foreign policy both integrity and martial credibility.
On Dec. 7, Trump named retired Marine General John F. Kelly as Secretary for Homeland Security. Kelly’s assignments in NATO and commanding the forces in Al Anbar Province and the Nineveh governorate in Iraq provide intimate knowledge of both the global and persisting terror threats facing America.
The selection of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is brilliant. Tillerson knows the Russian political landscape and understands Vladimir Putin. Remember in 2009 the Obama administration attempted “reset” relations with Moscow that belly-flopped because Putin disdained Obama’s naiveté as much as Leonid Brezhnev did Jimmy Carter’s. Recall Ronald Reagan’s relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev, one facilitated by Reagan’s massive peacetime military buildup to rebuild U.S. forces after the Vietnam War hangover.
Generals and successful business leaders like Tillerson have vision and know that successful strategic thinking fosters strategies taking countries and companies to their desired end states. It’s a matter of applying resources, operations, and tactics to a strategic vision. President Trump’s cabinet is shaping up to be one that can truly make America great again.
Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.