SIMI VALLEY, California — Congressional Republicans may move to speedily confirm former US Marine Gen. James Mattis as defense secretary despite complaints his appointment upsets the balance of civil-military power in US foreign-policy institutions.
The retired four-star general needs an exception, or waiver, from Congress to be eligible to be defense secretary because of a 1947 law barring anyone who was on active duty in the previous seven years from taking the job.
Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, argued in Foreign Policy on Friday that Trump’s surrounding himself with retired generals risks limiting his options in a crisis to military force. (Trump has tapped as national security advisor retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn and is said to be mulling retired four-stars David Petraeus and John Kelly for secretary of state.)
“One can readily imagine the starting point to a conversation among generals about the Syrian crisis being about the application of greater or lesser U.S. military force, rather than the tools of diplomacy or negotiation. But that’s an easy one,” Adams writes. “Is the key to dealing with China’s assertive presence in the South China Sea an aggressive U.S. military buildup in the Pacific or a diplomatic strategy that deals with the surrounding countries and seeks to resolve the most contentious issues? It’s not that the generals are ignorant, but simply that diplomacy is not their stock in trade nor what they’ve spent their lives thinking about and planning for. The differences may appear slight, but they send U.S. global engagement in two very different directions.”
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