Once again, the whispers of phantoms masquerading as administration officials have attempted to put Donald Trump on the defensive only two months before the fall election. And in typical fashion, the roused president has gone on an immediate rhetorical offensive.
Trump has doubled down on his affirmations towards the US military and the American soldier, while simultaneously confronting the class of generals who command them. “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me—the soldiers are,” Trump said at a Labor Day press conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
This is a dramatic shift in perspective from the man who spent the first two years of his presidency surrounding himself with top brass like Michael Flynn, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis (along with almost being beguiled into nominating David Petraeus as Secretary of State). Perhaps Trump learned the hard way that the generals of the forever wars don’t measure up to the twentieth-century soldiers he adulated growing up.
For instance, when George Marshall oversaw the deployment of 8.3 million GIs across four continents in World War II, he did so with the assistance of only three other four-star generals. In retirement, Marshall refused to sit on any corporate boards, and passed on multiple lucrative book deals, lest he give the impression that he was profiting from his military record. As he told one publisher, “he had not spent his life serving the government in order to sell his life story to the Saturday Evening Post.”
Contrast that to the bloated, top-heavy military establishment of today, where an unprecedented forty-one four-star generals oversee only 1.3 million men and women-at-arms. These men, selected and groomed because of their safe habits, spend years patting themselves on the back for managing wars-not-won, awaiting the day they can cash in. According to an analysis by The Boston Globe, in the mid-1990s nearly 50 percent of three- and four-star generals went on to work as consultants or executives for the arms industry. In 2006, at the height of the Iraq War, that number swelled to over 80% of retirees.
The examples are as endless as America’s foreign occupations: former Director of Naval Intelligence Jack Dorsett joined the board of Northrop-Grumman; he was later followed by former Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh; meanwhile, former Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright went to Raytheon; former Chairs of the Joint Chiefs—the highest ranking position in the military—William J. Crowe, John Shalikashvili,, Richard Myers, and Joseph Dunford went on to work for General Dynamics, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, and Lockheed-Martin, respectively.
General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, in between his forced retirement from the Marine Corps and appointment as Secretary of Defense, joined the board of General Dynamics where he was paid over a million dollars in salary and benefits. Returning to public life, Mattis then spent two years cajoling President Trump into keeping the US military engaged in places as disparate as Afghanistan, Syria, and Africa. “Sir, we’re doing it to prevent a bomb from going off in Times Square,” Mattis told his commander-in-chief. Left unsaid was that a strategic withdrawal would also lead to a precipitous decline in Mattis’ future stock options, which he regained after he rejoined General Dynamics following his December 2018 resignation.
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