The relationship between President Donald Trump and America’s admirals and generals has reached a low point in recent American history. This is a shame because it may imperil the Trump presidency and is terrible for the Republic.
Moreover, it is a real shame because the U.S. military has been in desperate need of reform, and Trump has, at heart, the right set of instincts about how to reform it.
Let us begin with this: history will not look kindly on the admirals and generals who led America into 20-plus years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
America’s strategic failure in Iraq, and our waste of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in Afghanistan, are, in part, the result of the careerism of a class of American admirals and generals who were utterly incapable of creative and effective leadership when the nation most needed it.
For the past 18 years, American military leaders cycled through war zones and tours at the Pentagon. They left their one-year tours with shiny medals and promotions. The nation called them heroes, even as their strategies led to the deaths and permanent maiming of thousands of young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who followed their orders, while America’s strategic situation deteriorated or remained stagnant.
Not only did the admirals and generals promote and reward each other as their troops suffered, but 18 years into a fruitless war in Afghanistan, America’s military leaders could not present the commander-in-chief with any options other than let’s do again the same thing we did last year.
America was in no better position in Afghanistan in 2020 than we were in 2002, yet the collective wisdom of the Pentagon and the “security establishment” was simply to do more of the same.
Trump was right to pull the plug on our misadventure in Afghanistan finally.
Trump was also right to finally pull the plug on our adventure in Syria. What was our mission there? Why were we willing to let America’s sons and daughters die there? What was the Pentagon’s plan for peace? For ending the war? The Pentagon had no answers.
Trump’s move in Syria was opposed by nearly the whole of the U.S. military establishment, who promised that the sky would fall if we ended our deployment there. However, they were wrong. Trump was right. The same thing was true when Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
The U.S. military’s senior officers and the American security establishment have been wrong time and again, all while the president has been right time and again.
Moreover, it is not just about U.S. military policy abroad that Trump has been right.
Trump was right to cut through the sick careerism of uniformed Navy leaders that allowed Eddie Gallagher, a U.S. Navy SEAL, to be falsely charged with murder. For months Gallagher was held in prison, all while the uniformed officers of the Navy JAG corps lied to judges and engaged in egregious prosecutorial misconduct.
Gallagher was and is innocent. Gallagher’s chain of command should have stood up for him. No one did. So the president had to. Trump was right.
One of the sick secrets of the U.S. military culture, as it has developed over the past two decades, is that officers’ careers progress regardless of whether or not America is successful on the battlefield. Eight years of Obama led to the promotion of a class of senior leaders who are politically correct, take no risks, and win no wars.
Many of the men and women wearing stars today in the Pentagon are there not because of what they did, but because of what they did not do: they never made a big mistake, never spoke up, and never got out of line. They played the game.