STATEMENT: Congress Should Not Take Civilian Control of Military Lightly, Even if Gen. Mattis Would Be Check on Trump’s Worst Instincts, Says CAP’s Vikram Singh
Washington, D.C. — Center for American Progress Vice President for National Security and International Policy Vikram Singh issued the following statement on news reports that President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Gen. James Mattis as the next secretary of defense:
Over his 43 years of service in the Marine Corps—from infantry platoon leader to commander of American forces in the Middle East—Gen. Mattis has become known for his bravery, integrity, and leadership. He has shown tremendous respect for the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States and for his civilian superiors. If confirmed, he would hopefully provide a strong check against President-elect Trump’s worst instincts and inexperience, especially when it comes to issues such as torture and maintaining America’s alliances abroad.
For Gen. Mattis to serve as secretary of defense, Congress would have to amend the law restricting retired military officers from serving as secretary of defense for a period of seven years after leaving active duty. This has happened exactly once in American history, when President Harry Truman appointed former Secretary of State and retired Gen. George C. Marshall to the post in 1950. Congress must not take any changes to this law lightly, even if they simply amount to carving out an exception for Gen. Mattis. This law exists to preserve civilian control of the military, a cornerstone of American democracy, and appointing a general so recently retired from active service to be secretary of defense is a serious matter, no matter how qualified that general may be for the position.
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