US law (the National Security Act of 1947) requires that a military officer be seven years from active, uniformed service before he can be appointed to serve as Secretary of Defense. That law also provides that Congress can waive that requirement.
What is the waiver all about, Big Red Car?
That waiver has been granted twice in US history.
1. George Marshall — former Architect of Allied Victory in World War II, five star General of the Armies, Chief of Staff of the US Army, Ambassador (Special Envoy) to China, Secretary of State, President of the American Red Cross — would receive that waiver and go on to save Europe through the efforts of what came to be named the Marshall Plan.
He would also be named a Nobel Laureate, receiving the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize, an unusual award for a soldier.
Secretary of Defense Marshall would be in charge during the Korean War, a war in which the post-World War II demobilization had made the US Army weak and vulnerable. Marshall’s prestige gave America hope.
2. James Norman Mattis — former Marine General (four stars) had a reputation for being an intellectual in the US Marine Corps. He had commanded the US Central Command (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, where the action was at the time) from 2010 to 2013 and was the Commander of the NATO Allied Command Transformation, a command intended to inject new doctrines and concepts into NATO. Is is not the Supreme Allied Commander European Forces or the NATO commander.
Mattis retired from the Marine Corps after 44 years of service and undertook several positions in the private sector, including serving on the board of Theranos.
This waiver should not be granted again. Allow me to catalog the reasons.
Jim Mattis was no George Marshall
George Marshall was a leader of the caliber of George Washington, a leader who comes along once every century. His record speaks for itself.
When Marshall was appointed to the position of Secretary of Defense, the Army was in a pickle with a fight in Korea in which a badly deteriorated, soft America Army was unable to perform at the level of violence it had during World War II.
The 1st Marine Division was the only unit that distinguished itself in the tough fighting.
Marshall, with his enormous experience in having designed and built the winning US Army, came out of retirement to give the country confidence that the US could get the job done.
There was a reason why the US needed Marshall at that time and in that position.
Jim Mattis was a General who had commanded substantial commands, but far, far, far less in size, stature, and results. Mattis served in a military force that was about 500,000 strong while Marshall ran an outfit that was 14,000,000 strong. Huge difference.
Mattis was appointed by Donald J Trump who had been a Vietnam War Era draft dodger. They always seemed an odd pair.
Marshall and Mattis are just not in the same league.
Are you for it or against it, Big Red Car?
I am against the appointment of former generals to the position of Secretary of Defense — not just for seven year, forever — for the following reasons:
1. Civilian control of the military is a damn good idea and a principle we should compromise upon only in the rarest of situations. When you are a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Retired military officers have a propensity to see every problem as requiring a military solution. The Trump admin did not start a single war in its four years.
2. When we have done it in the past, it was done to acquire an extraordinary talent in the instance of General Marshall and a truly mediocre talent in the case of General Mattis.
3. A former general is very limited in his view of the military, limited to his knowledge of his branch, with limited knowledge of the other branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marines, Coast Guard), limited knowledge of the nuclear force, and limited knowledge of cyber warfare. This is a quality assessment.
Compare General of the Armies Marshall to General Mattis — Mattis could not hold Marshall’s jock when it came to world experience.
4. Generals are petty and sensitive when it comes to discussing matters of importance; note Mattis’ childish temper tantrum when he resigned because the POTUS did not take his advice as it related to Syria and the American troop pullout.
Worse, it turned out President Trump was correct.
5. General Mattis was fired by the Obama admin for what they described as his tendency to project military solutions onto every problem. Other less critical observers may suggest he was not a team player and wanted the Obama admin to consider more long term implications of their actions. Regardless of which version strikes your fancy, Mattis ended up fired as CentCom commander.
6. President Trump and Secretary Mattis famously disagreed as to the wisdom of the US pulling its troops out from Syria. This was a fairly small potatoes move by the US, but Mattis insisted that such a move, even at the tactical level, was of such portent that he felt compelled to resign. Prima donna?
This is one of my big beefs with military officers in the position of Secretary of Defense — they take things very personally, are micro managers, and don’t see the view from the top of the mountain as a President must.
Mattis’ actions were petty, small minded, and, as events would indicate, wrong.
Why is this important, Big Red Car?
The reason this is important is because President Biden has nominated a former Army general, Lloyd Austin, to be his Secretary of Defense. I think it is a bad idea based solely on the necessity for him to receive a waiver of the seven year rule.
I also am not overwhelmed with Lloyd Austin as a general.
He is a West Pointer who commanded CentCom some time after Mattis. He was an 18th Airborne Corps commander which is the top tactical command in the regular Army. Bravo.
I am particularly skeptical of the general officer corps of the time period in which he served in that they were unable to find a strategy to beat the Taliban when we had a huge troop numerical advantage, complete mastery of the skies, an enormous advantage in firepower, smothering intel advantage, but, somehow, we couldn’t beat this third world light infantry that had no officer or NCO corps.
The job of our generals is to win our wars.
I listened to his confirmation hearings and he is a “woke” general concerned about things like equal opportunities for transgender troops. This is a problem fairly far down the “To Do Tasklist” from “win our wars.” Plus, why the Hell didn’t he solve those problems when he was in the damn Army? Come on, man.
The military as a petri dish concept was buried at the end of the Obama admin and should stay buried.
[Note: As a general proposition, a President should be able to name the Cabinet he wants. Special scrutiny should be given to State, Defense, and Treasury, but in general, a President should get who he wants.]
But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.