New Orleans The role of the military in governments of any stripe can be a powerful thing, though rarely is this good news.
In Asia, the military junta’s role in Myanmar has led to genocide and the disgrace of a Nobel prize symbol of democracy. In Thailand, the military determines the winners and losers with impunity. Ditto Pakistan. Let’s leave Africa out of it, but certainly the military has triggered coup after coup there. Latin America is closer at hand. The thrust and parry in Venezuela earlier in the year was played on the stage of whether the military supported the existing government or those calling for coup. Brazil, Chile, and Argentina during the Cold War furor were the steady sites of coups and the threat of coups. In Turkey and the Middle East, the military has their hands on the scale in determining the sustainability of governments.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse to death, but an independent military that is under the control of a civilian government has been a prescription for functioning democratic governance for centuries. Having watched President Trump’s efforts to politicize the judiciary and strip them of any neutrality, it’s worth worrying that the military could be his next project. With judges now, every decision seems conditionalized by whether a Republican or a Democratic president appointed them for life. We will all rue the day if we have to see generals, admirals and others through a partisan lens.
Is this crazy to worry about? I think not.
First, we had Trump in the heyday of his early presidency talk constantly about “his generals.” Then they were not just running the military, but also bouncing around between top posts running the National Security Council, the Defense Department, and serving as Chief of Staff at the White House, which is equivalent to running the government. Of course, he fell out with all the ones who weren’t forced to resign because of ethical problems, which is part of what now drives his new found zeal and brings me to my worry beads.
Then we have his attack on the colonel on special assignment to the National Security Council as a Ukrainian expert and speaker, calling him a “never Trumper” and a partisan. He made the mistake of thinking he was “doing his duty” as opposed to being a sycophant wearing a uniform. I don’t even want to go into his MAGA hats and attempt to rally the soldiers over the last year politically, but it happened, so let’s keep it in mind.
Now we have Trump overruling the top Navy admiral and the Navy secretary for believing that someone accused of killing a civilian in Afghanistan, innocent or guilty in a trial, might not be a keeper for the better image of the SEALs or the Navy itself. Heck, it might even be sending the wrong message. Trump claims he’s trying to protect warriors, but does that mean killers or does it mean soldiers?
Trump trying to politicize the armed forces is not a good look. Part of me thinks the culture of the military is deeply ingrained enough to resist being partisan and that they understand the difference, so they’ll stay neutral. But, didn’t we hear that would be the case with judges too, but now look at the Supreme Court and how deeply Trump appointees are disrupting the judicial system. It’s worth some worry.