More than any other president-elect in recent memory, Donald Trump has sought out military brass to populate his inner circle. Trump met Monday with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, a contender for secretary of state. He is also considering retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as a potential defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly for secretary of state or homeland security, and Adm. Mike Rogers as the director of national intelligence. His national security adviser-designate, Michael Flynn, retired from the Army as a lieutenant general after decades as a military intelligence officer. And CIA Director-designate Mike Pompeo graduated from West Point and served during the Cold War as an Army officer.
There is a great American tradition of veterans holding high political office, from Presidents George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower to senior officials such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake in the George W. Bush administration, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and national security adviser James Jones in the Obama administration. A typical administration, though, starts out with few recent generals in key positions. Filling as many slots with retired brass as Trump is poised to do is highly unusual.
No doubt these men bring tremendous experience. But we should be wary about an overreliance on military figures. Great generals don’t always make great Cabinet officials. And if appointed in significant numbers, they could undermine another strong American tradition: civilian control of an apolitical military.