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The powerful generals under President Trump

During his campaign for president, Donald Trump slammed the leadership of the U.S. military, claiming that “the generals under Barack Obama have not been successful. Under the leadership of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the generals have been reduced to rubble, reduced to a point where it is embarrassing for our country.” He implied that, as president, he would replace Obama’s military leadership with generals and admirals who would not subordinate military effectiveness to “political correctness.”

As president, Trump has not replaced the military’s leadership. Indeed, he has elevated three Obama-era generals to important administration positions: retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense; retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, first as secretary of Homeland Security and now as White House chief of staff; and active duty Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser.

These appointments have elicited two polar reactions: concern that they violate the principle of civilian control of the military, and belief that these military men would provide a stabilizing influence on a mercurial president. The latter should be of more concern to those who take healthy civil-military relations seriously.

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