WHEN GENERALS SPEAK

When he observed that through a revolving door arrangement, military leaders go to work in industries and the government keeps hiring industry leaders into various positions, President Eisenhower talked about "military industrial complex." Such transference of skill and wisdom perpetuated a system that blocked fresh ideas from outside. He saw a danger in this arrangement. Thinking of the leaders of military, industry and government ran in a similar line which in later years produced the Vietnam War. Now, even if the engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been complete we have ventured into Niger. Had the four soldiers not been killed there the engagement in this African country would not have been known to the public for some time. A military engagement - publicly declared or not - is said to be a president's prerogative for the sake of national defense. Who knows more about defending the country than the Generals?

Right now President Trump has placed three supremely confident Generals in three strategic positions. General Kelly is his Chief of Staff. General Matisse is the Secretary of Defense and General McMaster heads Homeland Security. Both Kelly and Matisse are retired; McMaster is not. It is solid proof that Trump has a great deal of respect for the military. As a boy he went to a military school but later as a young man stayed away from conscription by deferment. Others fought in a jungle and got killed or killed others. Many others protested on the streets of the United States against the War. Trump during this tumultuous time with "great sacrifice" collected rents for his father and slowly built his real estate empire. Without ever commanding anything he is now the Commander in Chief. The experience of giving orders to real Generals for anyone with his background is a dream come true.

In the current situation the Generals, according to Senator Crocker of Tennessee, are standing between the country and "chaos". Yet, handing over too much power to military personnel also has its inherent danger. American military personnel are conditioned to accept civilian authority. They do what the policymakers tell them to do. But when military men/women are asked to make decisions in civilian terms, in spite of their Ph.D. in history and political science, their decisions are bound to reflect their life-long training. And that is a very big danger for any country. Whenever a nation has depended on its military leaders for civilian causes it has weakened its civilian institutions. As Secretaries of State neither Colin Powell nor Alexander Haig did a stellar job in spite of their stellar careers in the military. Haig was fired from the job and Powell pushed us into Iraq without checking facts.

Those who wield power at any time or place tend to grab more of it. The military as an institution is not an exception to this rule. If our civilian leaders want to keep civilian institutions intact and use them in their proper roles then they should not reach out to the military as a short cut. In many countries, coups have happened right under the nose of the top officers. The American military is too civilized to entertain an idea of taking over the government but civilians in power could do plenty of damage to the working of their democracy. Having lost faith in democratic norms or institutions is one of them.

Democracy does not always run in a straight line. It is messy and more often than not it zigs and zags in unfamiliar directions. However, this is the best formula for administration man has ever devised. America's founding fathers have made it stronger. Now it is the cry of the entire world. Dissidents in China, Bloggers in Russia and Protesters in the Middle East look up to the people of the US for their sense of exceptionalism. They get inspiration from "We the people". That is why no matter what, we have to devise ways to create a bond with them.


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