The White House, the Military and Trump’s New Priorities

If Congress approves his request, the required amount will be collected by reducing federal spending on environmental protection against industrial abuse and on welfare programs yet to be determined.

In recent weeks, Donald Trump has chosen three generals for some of the most important posts in his government: John Francis Kelly, in charge of Homeland Security; James Mattis in charge of defense and Herbert R. McMaster in charge of national security.

It may be that the new president has a penchant for ministers in uniform. However, he hasn’t made any decisions that fundamentally different from those of many of his predecessors. In American democracy, the military caste has provided a useful reservoir of skill and talent since the Declaration of Independence.

It’s also happened in European states (I’ll mention a few at random): Napoleon and De Gaulle in France; Wellington in England; Hindenburg in Germany; Menabrea, Alfonso La Marmora and Badoglio in Italy, Francisco Franco in Spain, Admiral Horthy in Hungary; (not to mention those politicians who, like Stalin, became generalissimo after their seizure of power).

But in the United States, the presence of the military in the top tiers of the state is quite normal and happens often. The first American president (George Washington) was a general. The 18th president (Ulysses S. Grant) was a soldier who fought in the American Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt was not a career soldier, but his popularity, which opened the doors to the White House, was captured on the battlefields of Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Dwight D. Eisenhower was, in order: commander of the allied forces during World War II, commander of the forces assigned to NATO in the early years of the Cold War, and 34th president. It’s not surprising, then, that a very frequently used title for the president of the United States is “commander in chief,” taken from an article of the Constitution.

There are even numerous generals who have “commanded” American diplomacy. George Marshall, father of the great economic plan that bears his name, was secretary of state from 1947 to 1950; as were Alexander Haig for a year and a half until July 1982; and Colin Powell, from 2001 to 2005. Even Barack Obama, between 2009 and 2010, availed himself of Gen. James Logan Jones, as his National Security Advisor. Behind these frequent collaborations between the arms profession and the government lies an entire educational system. In the United States, there are dozens of military academies and colleges. Some are financially supported by the Department of Defense, but others, much more numerous, are private. America is a great democratic country, but in many ways it is also a militaristic nation with traits reminiscent of Napoleonic France, Prussian Germany and Japan until the end of World War II.

I think this explains the relative ease with which the country resorts to the armed forces, although with often disappointing results (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) or even tragicomic ones (the occupation of Grenada in 1983). It certainly explains the $54 billion that Trump wants to add to a military budget that today already amounts to some $549 billion. If Congress approves his request, the necessary sum to be increased on military spending will be collected by reducing federal spending, such as the funding for programs which Trump does not welcome: those involving environmental protection from industrial abuse and welfare programs yet to be determined.

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