Rethinking America

Trump’s Generals Await Their Coup de Grâce

Nobody sticks around long in the Trump Administration once they cross Trump on an issue that is meaningful to him.

Takeaways


  • In 2017, there was talk of a silent coup in Washington, D.C. After months of initial chaos during the relentlessly impulsive Trump Administration, two former and one current military leader had quietly taken over.
  • As the adults in the room, the Generals’ prime goal was to influence or isolate the President as much as possible to restore order -- and prevent a global meltdown of confidence in American leadership.
  • Authoritarian leaders such as Donald Trump have the tendency to unceremoniously eliminate those who grow too powerful, even if they once were their closest allies.
  • Nobody sticks around long in the Trump Administration once they cross Trump on an issue that is meaningful to him.
  • Once Secretary of State Pompeo is in place, there will be a massive shift in the power dynamics within the Trump Administration. He will side with Trump on every imaginable subject.

In the second half of 2017, there was a lot of talk about a silent coup in Washington, D.C. After months of initial chaos during the relentlessly impulsive Trump Administration, two former and one current military leader had quietly taken over.

As the adults in the room, they became the drivers of administration policy. Their prime goal was to influence or isolate the President as much as possible in order to restore order — and to prevent a global meltdown of confidence in American leadership.

Establishing clear lines of communication

Retired General John Kelly, who took over as Chief of Staff from Reince Priebus on July 31, 2017, quickly used his organizational skills honed in the military to develop clear lines of hierarchy and communication within the Trump administration, especially among West Wing staffers.

Familiar with gaining the attention of civilian leaders through a mixture of deference and firmness, Kelly got the President’s ear as he deflected and reined in much of the internal turmoil that had completely paralyzed the policy-making process under President Trump in his initial months.

Retired General Jim Mattis was Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense from the beginning of his administration. He is obviously well versed in matters of defense and got confirmed by the United States Senate with a vote of 98-1.

This was somewhat surprising given the fact that General Mattis had earned himself the nickname “Mad Dog” during his military years, a nickname allegedly awarded by members of the press. After all, Mattis had been known for his colorful statements, such as “a good soldier follows orders, but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho.” Statements like that certainly appealed to Trump’s inner child.

Mattis also used his military skills to get the President to listen to him. He also relates well to John Kelly, who served under him during the Iraq War.

Active-duty Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster became President Trump’s second National Security Advisor at the end of February 2017, following the swift dismissal of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. The latter man has since pleaded guilty for making “false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements” to the FBI during the Russia investigation.

While McMaster became far less cozy with President Trump than his retired colleagues in the inner circle, he was tolerated — if for no other reason than that replacing him would have meant a third national security advisor within the first year of this presidency.

Military government?

Given all of this as well as the superior organizational skills of these retired and active military leaders, it came as no surprise that even the Washington Post published an article on August 22, 2017 entitled: “Military leaders consolidate power in Trump administration.”

Less accommodating critics of this unprecedented military power in any U.S. Administration of modern history, referred to this influence as a slow-motion coup and to the three key figures as America’s junta.

But the days of that “junta” may soon end abruptly. The Twitter-firing of Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, may have been Trump’s opening salvo in ridding himself of all internal opposition. And in that regard, these three military men now rank highly on the President’s target list.

In the firing line

Despite his stabilizing West Wing control, General Kelly has often irked the President. Most recently, he warned the President that his apparent discussions with witnesses of the Mueller investigation might be considered as witness tampering.

Trump does not take advice very well, even if well-meaning, as soon as he suspects disloyalty. Kelly has also removed Jared Kushner’s security clearance and was responsible for the sudden removal of Trump’s beloved and closest 29-year-old advisor, Hope Hicks.

General Mattis has openly opposed the President on his threat to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. So had Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Mattis has also opposed budget cuts at the Department of State. In fact, he was a stronger advocate of diplomacy than Tillerson, a civilian. Mattis had pointedly stated prior to becoming Secretary of Defense and as an active military leader: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Most importantly, Mattis has persistently pointed at Russia as a threat to world order. That certainly does not sit well with President Trump, whose own political future depends as much on President Putin as on the consistent voter turnout of his most extremist sympathizers.

That leaves Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. Trump never had as close a relationship with McMaster that he developed with Kelly and Mattis. But he was outright infuriated in February, when McMaster stated at the Munich Security Conference that evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election was “incontrovertible.”

The President tweeted back: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians.”

Again, nobody sticks around long in the Trump Administration once they cross Trump on an issue that is meaningful to him. Agreeing that Russian meddling was “incontrovertible” certainly meets that smell test.

Shifting power dynamics

Once Secretary of State Pompeo is in place, there will be a massive shift in the power dynamics within the Trump Administration. The most senior cabinet member, the Secretary of State, fourth in line of presidential succession, will side with Trump on every imaginable subject.

In many cases, because his worldview is just that similar, such as in his staunch rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. In other cases, Pompeo, an experienced politician with few principles, likes to play this game much better than the straight-laced military leaders.

Finally, authoritarian leaders such as Donald Trump have the tendency to unceremoniously eliminate those who grow too powerful, even if they once were their closest allies.

So, Generals? Be prepared for the Coup de Grâce! Or as they tweet these days #timesupnow.

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About Uwe Bott

Uwe Bott is the Chief Economist of The Globalist Research Center. [New York/United States]

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