Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 2, 2016
Donald Trump has chosen a defense secretary—but retired Gen. James Mattis won’t need just the usual confirmation vote. Mattis retired from the Marines in 2013, and there’s a law prohibiting anyone who has been on active duty in the past seven years from becoming defense secretary. Congress could clear the way for him with a waiver from that law, but at least one Democrat doesn’t plan to go along. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement Thursday that:
“While I deeply respect General Mattis’s service, I will oppose a waiver. Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”
Context is important. Sixty-five years ago, Gen. George Marshall—who had already been secretary of state, overseeing the Marshall Plan—was allowed to be defense secretary, but the Congress was pretty clear that was a unique situation:
The special legislation passed to make Marshall secretary of defense amended the 1947 national security act, which shaped U.S. military and intelligence agencies after World War II. The amended legislation said that while Marshall was permitted to serve as defense secretary, “the authority granted by this Act is not to be construed as approval by the Congress of continuing appointments of military men in the office of Secretary of Defense in the future.”
Whatever you think of Mattis—who is extremely accomplished if not necessarily someone Democrats would agree with much of the time—the principle of civilian control of the military is an important one. As a “former senior Pentagon official” told the Washington Post, “If there’s any concern at all, it’s the principle of civilian control over the military. This role was never intended to be a kind of Joint Chiefs of Staff on steroids, and that’s the biggest single risk tied to Mattis.”
Democrats shouldn’t just roll over and give up on that principle, contributing to Trump’s militarization of the civilian government.
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