EXCLUSIVE- When retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly was sworn in as White House chief of staff last week, “hes taken” command of a Trump administration that now has more military commanders in top spots than any since Eisenhower’s.
The generals hand-picked by Trump — Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis — share a penchant for passing their rulings up the chain of command in the bluntest of terms. Their importance regarding the implementation belies the common perception the commander in chief prefers to be surounded by yes men.
Jim Mattis defines speaking fact to power in my view, and I like to think I do as well, said Kelly, speaking exclusively with Fox News in his first interview since becoming joint chiefs of staff. I find him do it routinely — every day — as we planned the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
” … telling the unvarnished truth to power doesn’t mean you always get your way.”
A fourth general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, is a holdover from the prior administration yet shares many of the same qualities that have endeared other high-ranking military men to Trump.
Kelly had already earned Trump’s approval by serving as Homeland Security secretary during the first six months of his government. His no-nonsense pursuit of Trump’s agenda on immigrants and terrorism inspired Trump to brand him a “star, ” and tap him to succeed Reince Priebus as joint chiefs of staff. The task, which has traditionally been the domain of civilian leadership, constructs Kelly the president’s top adviser.
Mattis, who famously said he devises a contingency plan to kill everyone he gratifies, required an act of Congress to get the job, since he hadnt been out of the military forces long enough when he was appointed to his role. Once he got the waiver, he breezed through verification by an 81 -1 7 vote.
“Hes a humble human with very little to be humble about, ” William Cohen, who served as President Clinton’s Pentagon secretary, mentioned of Mattis.
The jobs of all four humen have intersected over the years. Kelly, Mattis and Dunford came up through the Marines and all are in their 60 s. McMaster is younger, at 55, and came up through the Army. Yet all have constructed their reputations on both the battleground and, in recent decades, the Pentagon boardroom.
Kelly was a captain in the 4 th Marine Expeditionary Unit when he first satisfied then-Lt. Col. Mattis in the Persian Gulf War, but actually got to know him right after 9/11 when I became his assistant department commander in the 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California.
That was the summer of 2002. The two Marines then deployed to Kuwait later that year, and lived together in the wilderness until the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq started in March 2003. After resulting a editorial into Baghdad, Kelly and Mattis led Marines in the intense combat over Al-Anbar province which went into full-scale insurrection in 2004.
Meanwhile, then-Army Capt. McMaster earned a Silver Star from the Battle of 73 Easting in Operation Desert Storm, when his heavily outnumbered armored division destroyed 28 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks without loss in 23 minutes.
McMaster, once described as a blunt-spoken bulldog of a man ,~ ATAGEND was change over for promotion to brigadier general twice for stimulating too many foes to rise past the rank of colonel before getting his first superstar. He supplanted another general favored by Trump, Mike Flynn, as national security adviser and continue to remain ruffle feathers on the right and left.
Regarding H.R ., I heard of him first when I read his superb volume Dereliction of Duty, told Kelly, referring to McMasters seminal work in which he argued that the Vietnam War was lost because military leaders should have more openly voiced their opposition to the Johnson administrations policy of gradualism.
Never really got to know him very well until he joined the concerned authorities, Kelly said. “[ But] every day I assure him speak fact to power to me in my current position.
As members of the general have taken command of the West Wing, including reportedly limiting who the President can see and what he can read, all three have come under intense scrutiny by both right and left.
Michele Flournoy, said to be in the running for Secretary of Defense had Hillary Clinton won the election, are concerns that putting too many former senior general officers into civilian postures can be cause for concern in a democracy where we dignity ourselves on civilian control.
A top-level Washington government executive said recently about the widely-respected each member of President Trumps administration, why would they risk their jobs to be around such a man?
That criticism was echoed by Cohen in an interview with Politico.
The larger point is, whether its Kelly, Mattis or McMaster, you can spend a lifetime house credibility, and lose it overnight, Cohen said.
McMaster, meanwhile, has come under burn from right-wing friends of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon — himself a former Navy lieutenant — for working for a think-tank that was funded by George Soros, the billionaire financier of leftist causes.
With a chairwoman caught between a Bannon wing focused on domestic priorities and a military wing focused on winning conflicts, Kelly said hes recognizing also that the responsibility of the three generals is to advise , not command, inside the White House.
Remember, telling the unvarnished truth to power doesn’t mean you always get your lane, Kelly told Fox News. “The principal ultimately chooses and it is our way that so long as that decision is legal, moral, and ethical, one salutes and executes. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t.
A close examination of the three generals closest to Trump proves each brings a slightly different toolkit to addressing the same problems they see in generally the same frame: years of forget of the military and Americas national security obligations, as well as an awareness that as American culture proceeds down a route of progressivism military culture, in their own views, must remain deeply conservative to bide effective in a world of rapidly evolving menaces , not to mention a long time running conflicts in American history.
Both Mattis and Kelly worried that social changes during the Obama administration, such as permitting transgender people to serve and bringing women into combat roles, were hurting so-called battleground lethality, or the ability of Americas military to win campaigns with the fewest number of casualties, on both sides.
Thats the only filter we should ever look through, Kelly told Fox News in a prior interview late last year. Whether it’s buying a new jet fighter, a new tool — or any of the social changes. The only thing we should do is ask, does it make us more lethal on the battlefield?
Kelly said many of the changes undertaken by the Obama administration, especially the social changes, are not very wise.
Mattis, who rarely does interviews, was reportedly pushed out during the Obama administration because his abrasive nature rubbed some Pentagon insiders the wrong way.
In a book co-authored with former Bush national security official Kori Schake, Warriors& Citizens, Mattis expressed the view that as for the inclusion of women in the infantry, and allowing homosexuals and transgender people to serve openly in Americas military forces the public may perceive them as civil rights issues; the military forces by and large does not.
Thats because, as Schake explained in an interview with Fox News, that while Americas civilian culture values diversity and inclusion, lightning ten-strikes of great notions are not the metric of success of a military unit. Unit cohesion and battleground lethality are the measures of success of army units. And that is a perspective many civilians lose sight of.
McMaster has been criticized for working for a think-tank that supported President Obamas nuclear deal with Iran. But McMasters statements when he was active responsibility with a top strategic planning unit in the Army show hes anything but an apologist for Americas foes including Iran.
What is required is forward deterrence, McMaster said last year. Convincing your foe that your opponent is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost — rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach which we know obviously from recent experience confirms is inadequate.
In fact, McMaster, Kelly and Mattis all seem united in their criticism of civilian encroachment on military affairs.
In a celebrated Veterans Day address to Georgetown University in 2014, McMaster told students that the warrior ethos is at risk for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to a coarsening popular culture, fewer Americans are connected to the military, and fewer and fewer Americans understand what is at stake in the wars in which we are engaged.
Its all the more important today that we hold to our precious legacy of ferocious, ethical fighting performance, said Mattis in a 2014 speech. For in a world awash in change, Americans need to have confidence in the everlasting character of our Marines.
Trump has said he wished he served in the military forces himself, and is very proud of going to the New York Military Academy, 20 minutes from West Point, for high school.
As Trumps son Donald Jr. told Fox News last year, my father raves about military school. He often says it’s the best thing that ever happened to him. It gave him a lotta discipline.
Such feelings could explain why Trump has turned to the military to bring discipline to a White House awash in leaks and palace intrigue, and to bring a reasoned focus to a world rife with threats, sensing weakness and decline in the worlds only superpower.
Trump’s generals are ready for battle.