Set to begin his presidency in a state of war with the American intelligence community, reality TV star Donald Trump is already testing his relations with the US military.
Consider the experience of Maj. Gen. Errol R. Schwartz, commander of the District of Columbia National Guard. Like any other presidential appointee, Schwartz submitted a formal resignation to the Trump transition team, which ordered him to leave his post at the very moment Trump will be taking the oath of office. Problematically, Schwartz has helped plan inauguration security, and will be overseeing 7,700 soldiers from a command center during the event.
Now, this is not really about Schwartz, who has certainly served in the position for long enough and shall enjoy the same ceremonial goodbyes as his predecessors. If there’s one thing the military is good at, it’s holding change-of-command ceremonies.
In fact, that’s basically what Schwartz was assigned to do on Friday — help oversee the change-of-command ceremony for the commander-in-chief — when he submitted his formal resignation expecting to serve until a replacement was named.
The left hand of the Trump team clearly does not know what the right hand is doing. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the transition team belatedly offered Gen. Schwartz an extension only after the matter got widespread media attention.
Transition officials for the new administration on Friday said the team asked Schwartz to stay on through the inauguration to maintain continuity. They did not immediately respond Saturday to questions about when and how that offer was extended.
[…] Maj. Byron Coward, a spokesman for the D.C. National Guard, also said the offer from the transition team to Schwartz came Friday afternoon. He said Trump transition officials asked Schwartz to stay on an additional three days. Coward said that was the first time Schwartz had any notion that the transition team wanted him to stay in command throughout the inauguration.
According to the Post, sources on the original story hedged their language on Saturday, so the new CIC has already exerted his authority over the military by ordering silence in the ranks. Which is fine, according to the law — civilian control of the armed forces is a cornerstone of American constitutionalism — but it bodes ill politically.
Remember, Trump has also gotten off to a bad start with Ret. Gen. James Mattis, his pick for Secretary of Defense. At issue are most of the civilians the new commander-in-chief wants put in control of the military:
Initially, both Mattis and the Trump team intended to engage in a collaborative process whereby Mattis would be given significant influence and participation in selecting top Pentagon appointees.
But the arrangement started going south only two weeks later when Mattis had to learn from the news media that Trump had selected Vincent Viola, a billionaire Army veteran, to be secretary of the Army, one source close to the transition said.
[…] Mattis has rejected all of the names the Trump team has offered to be the top intelligence official in the department, another transition source said. Mattis is also unlikely to accept Trump’s top Pentagon transition landing team official, Mira Ricardel, as a top official. She was rumored to be in line to be undersecretary of defense for policy, a hugely influential job.
“Let’s put it this way, he’s being very picky about the options presented to him,” said the source, who was not authorized to talk about internal deliberations.
Whereas President Obama has transformed the armed forces on issues such as DADT by helping the Pentagon want to change, Donald’s natural tendency is to impose change. Given the outsize influence of culture warriors and conspiracy theorists in his nascent administration, we can expect attempts to reverse such ‘social engineering’ — and a return of religious radicalization.
Toxic right wing politics and bureaucratic incompetence characterized the Bush-Cheney years, but that era may seem quaint to us before the Trump-Pence administration is done. Chances are it will not wear well on the uniform this time either. In fact, it’s probably why Mattis finds so many of Donald Trump’s choices unqualified.
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