Symposium 2016: There have been a number of former military generals appointed to top cabinet and related positions within the upcoming Trump administration. Is there a conflict with civilian government versus military control in these appointments?

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent- In a Trump led administration there would not be a conflict with civilian government versus military control in these appointments as the Constitution does not prohibit the president from appointing military officers to any executive branch position, and Congress does not have a role in determining the nominees.

Critics are fearful of the number of former military officers that Trump has appointed or plans on appointing (five).  They feel it presents a conflict with the balance of civilian versus military control and compares the appointments to a dictatorship.

Other presidents, Democrat and Republican, have appointed retired high-ranking military officers to top posts within their administrations and blowback was minimal, even with former President George W. Bush’s appointment of retired General Colin Powel l who had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was later appointed as secretary of state by Bush; however with Trump’s appointments the criticism and controversy have been harsh, yet expected.

There is particular concern over the appointment of retired General “Mad Dog” Mattis for Secretary of Defense, which opponents feel disregards the tradition of constitutional government and civilian control of the military.  Those that support Trump’s decision explain that the tradition is fulfilled by the president, a civilian, serving as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Others complain that appointing that number of generals disrupts the balance of a system that supports civilian leadership.  They further state that if President-elect Trump does fill his cabinet and administration with that many generals there will be overdependence on former military personnel in place of civilian leaders.

As previously stated, limitations on the president appointing military officers to executive branch positions are not prohibited and Congress cannot determine nominations, and the only contradiction to that was 1947 legislation that was enacted when the Department of Defense replaced the War Department. The law determined that the Secretary of Defense was to be “appointed from civilian life and that no military officer could hold the post until after being separated from the armed forces for seven years.”

Congress can issue a waiver concerning the issue of separation from service time, but the statutory limitation is unconstitutional and the president still has the sole authority to nominate officers of his choosing.  A waiver concerning separation time was issued in 1947 when President Truman appointed General George Marshall as Pentagon chief from 1950 through 1951, so it has been used, and could possibly be employed by those in the confirmation process as a ploy to deny Mattis the Defense role.

The only conflict in these probable appointments is the number of appointments, but the reasoning behind it is the need for a buildup in the military from its downward spiral over the last eight years and with strong military leadership in high level positions, military forces in America will regain their strength  resume their protection of the country and make their  presence  known in the world.


Owatonna, MN Correspondent- President-elect Trump appears to be signaling to the world that he intends to reassert America’s dominance in the world on all levels, but especially in terms of military might and influence. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to perceived weakness in the Obama administration’s foreign policy and was probably designed to encourage votes from the “time for a change in Washington” crowd.

The big risk, of course, is that the military branch of government gains so much power that its leader, be it the President or one or more top generals, decides to impose some degree of military rule upon the nation. This could happen for many reasons. The most likely reason would be a severe economic or political crisis within our borders that would cause mass riots, uprisings, protests, and other disruptive or unlawful activities.

If such events came to pass, there would definitely be a conflict between civilian government vs. military control. The military could easily persuade a diminished civilian presence in government that military force is the only viable solution to the crisis. In times of turmoil, it’s easy to forget that this country rebelled against England because it was tired of being ruled by a nation’s armed forces and wanted to peacefully decide its own future.

While it is beneficial to have military experience in cabinet positions such as Defense, State, and Homeland Security, civilian oversight, especially from Congress, should always monitor positions filled by military or ex-military appointees that aren’t defense-related to ensure that qualified people fill those slots.

Even if Trump loads his cabinet with ex-generals, it’s unlikely anything disastrous would happen. After all, the US survived very well with war-hero Presidents such as George Washington, Ulysses Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower. While Trump’s military appointees may cause concern, they should not be cause for alarm.


Gastonia, NC Correspondent- I don’t have any issue with former generals and other military members running various sectors of the government. As far as I’m concerned, the entire federal structure could use a lot more accountability and organization, and there need to be people in charge who aren’t afraid to kick the butts that need kicking and do what’s necessary to establish order and get the job done.  Career bureaucrats and party hacks have hamstrung many of our government departments, and the sooner they are shown the door, the better. It’s not as if placing a former Marine in charge of HHS will lead to Section 8 housing applicants having to complete a ropes course to get housing … although now that I think of it, that might not be the worst idea ever.

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