Who needs a military coup?


W.J. Astore

With the swearing in of John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff, a retired four-star Marine general now controls the White House. Another retired four-star Marine general, James Mattis, controls the Department of Defense (DoD) and much of the National Security State. Meanwhile, a serving three-star Army general, H.R. McMaster, controls the National Security Council.

Who needs a military coup?  Remember when the U.S. was founded on civilian control of a citizen-soldier military?  Those were the days.  The point is not that Kelly-Mattis-McMaster constitute a military cabal; it’s that there’s no rival civilian authority at the upper regions of Trump’s government.  Is Steve Bannon going to rein in the generals?  He fancies himself a military strategist in his own right.  Should we place our faith in Congress?  How about Jared and Ivanka?  Prospects for less bellicose policies are indeed looking grim.

Our clueless president, after all, professes love for “his” generals while acclaiming the WWII generals George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, two soldiers who were not known for their deference to civilian authority.

Again, who needs a military coup?  As the real U.S. military budget soars above a trillion dollars a year and as the U.S. State Department is sidelined and gutted, the future of U.S. foreign policy seems clear: More and more “kinetic” operations, together with more and more brinksmanship with Iran, North Korea, and possibly Russia and China as well.

With generals in the White House and the DoD running the show, advised by another general on the National Security Council, enabling a president whose patience and knowledge base are as thin as his skin, the prospects for catastrophic miscalculation and war loom ever larger.

Update (8/2/17): Speaking of Congress, here’s Senator Lindsey Graham on the appointment of retired Marine General John Kelly as White House Chief of Staff: “The Marines can do almost anything,” Senator Graham said. “The Marines have landed at the White House. They have a beachhead.”

And that’s a good thing, Senator?  In a military dictatorship, perhaps …

4 thoughts on “Who needs a military coup?

  1. As Secretary William Perry, SecDefense under Clinton says: We are closer today to engaging in a nuclear war than at any other time since the height of the Cold War (think Cuban Missile Crisis) and the over 1 trillion dollars planned on “modernizing our nuclear triad!


  2. That old reliable commentator, Major General Smedley D. Butler said, “Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.”
    Butler’s comment maybe a bit severe. Ike also warned of the power of Military-Industrial Complex. Since my highest rank was Spec 4, I have no idea if Field Grade or Generals ever questioned the orders they received from higher ups either civilian or from the military chain of command.

    Policy as determined by civilians turns into orders for the military. I suppose the answer is contained in Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade –
    “Forward, the Light Brigade!”
    Was there a man dismayed?
    Not though the soldier knew
    Someone had blundered.
    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die.
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

    Our Constitution was set up to provide a check and balance. A Declaration of War was necessary by Congress. Thus, a heavy responsibility was laid in the hands of Congress was to provide a reason to the people for sending the soldiers off, “to do or die”. The Elected Representatives, appointed members in the President’s Cabinet, Military and Defense Contractors have become an interlocking web of selfish special interests. It is possible I believe, that if Bush the Younger would have been required to place an Iraq War 2 tax on the American people to pay for the War, it might not have happened. If there is one thing Congress fears more than the Rabid NEO-CONs it is being unemployed, by voting for a tax increase.

    Any way I may have found a partial answer to my question about senior military types questioning orders: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/04/donald-rumsfeld-iraq-war
    A long but very good article.


    1. ML: Speaking as an officer (but not an especially high-ranking one), when you start questioning orders, it’s time to separate or retire.

      A questioning and critical attitude, especially toward policy in what are ultimately futile and indefensible wars, will put you at odds with superiors and ensure a stagnation in rank and less-than-ideal assignments.


      1. Your response concerning the military is similar to Corporate America, where I worked for the vast majority of my adult life.


Comments are closed.