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Trump and the Autonomous Military

Via The Hill:  Trump: ‘My generals’ had decision-making authority on Niger mission.

President Trump on Wednesday said he did not personally authorize the mission in Niger in which four U.S. soldiers were killed, saying “my generals and my military” have decision-making authority.

Asked if he authorized the mission, Trump responded, “No, I didn’t, not specifically.”

“I have generals that are great generals,” he continued. “These are great fighters; these are warriors. I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. That’s the authority they have. I want to win. And we’re going to win.”

[…]

“My generals and my military, they have decision-making ability,” he added later. “As far as the incident that we’re talking about, I’ve been seeing it just like you’ve been seeing it. I’ve been getting reports. They have to meet the enemy and they meet them tough and that’s what happens.”

On the one hand, having Trump not make decisions about military force has a certain comforting element.  On the other, this is absolutely not the way that civilian control of the military is supposed to work.

Further, it is disconcerting to hear a president refer to the military as “my generals.”

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    On the other, this is absolutely not the way that civilian control of the military is supposed to work.

    I’m not following you here. Is it Trump’s public statements or something specific about the operations in Niger?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. Teve tory says:

    Stupid generals. And why didn’t they just follow his 30-day plan for destroying Isis?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. RM says:

    Agree that “my generals” grates on my ears. However, the decision making level for a Niger Army patrol for our SF guys that have been deployed in Niger training the Niger Army for the last 10 years is certainly something to be made well below AFRICOM level, much less POTUS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  4. Erik says:

    I don’t have much problem with Trump not having “specifically” authorized this mission. Note, however, that this does not obsolve him from responsibility despite what he may think. He authorized the mission in general when he gave military leaders decision making authority, and bears the responsibility for whatever they decide to do within whatever constraints he imposed on that authority. If he bothers to ask the most junior military leader he will learn that one can delegate authority but not responsibility.

    Also: I would dearly hope that he is not “Seeing it just like [we’ve] been seeing it,” but sadly I think that hope is misplaced and he actually is, since most of his information seems to come from Fox News, and even less reputable online sources.

    Also also: +1 for the “my” military construction being highly inappropriate and disturbing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  5. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Trump is right about one thng: I’m sooooooooo tired of what he thinks is winning!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. SC_Birdflyte says:

    “My generals” sounds better when you render it as “meine Feldherrn.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. B. R. Bong says:

    “I don’t want my generals or my defense secretary or my national-security team to ever feel deploying weapons to kill people as routine or abstract, even if the targets are bad people. ”
    Barack Obama (emphasis added)

    Yes.

    This is how stupid you sound.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  8. @B. R. Bong: And your point?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. @Andy: Trump’s approach to military operations appears to be hands off (this is not the first time he has spoken like this). It is as if he doesn’t want to know or care about what they are doing. That is deferring a key responsibility of the office.

    @RM: Sure–I am not suggesting that POTUS would be making minute decisions. But, as @Erik notes, he is still responsible. He is treating the military like some unit of a business that had a job to do, but that as CEO he doesn’t have to worry about what or how they are doing it, as long as it gets done.

    And I wholly concur with:

    I would dearly hope that he is not “Seeing it just like [we’ve] been seeing it,” but sadly I think that hope is misplaced and he actually is, since most of his information seems to come from Fox News, and even less reputable online sources.

    That is like the MOAB strike, where it seemed like he was saying he learned about it from the news as well. He definitely suggested that the military made the decision to use that bomb without his specific authorization.

    He does not understand the job that he has.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Look, who the hell knows if he authorized it or not? It failed, Americans died, so he’s going to distance himself as much as possible from the event. Had it succeeded – whatever “success” means – then he’d be claiming he drew up the flight plans himself. He’s a liar. Period. Full stop.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is as if he doesn’t want to know or care about what they are doing.

    I definitely don’t want Donald Trump to be directing military operations from the White House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. inhumans99 says:

    @B. R. Bong:

    How many times did Obama say “my generals/my military during the course of his 8 years in the White House? President Trump just says this as a matter of fact and it makes him sound like he is the authoritarian dictator of a banana republic which should make you uncomfortable. There is a current article at the Business Insider site that is titled: “Trump won’t stop saying ‘my generals’ — and the military community isn’t happy.” You should check it out, and you will notice they do not say but Obama! in the article.

    The number of times he has said this and his barely being a year into his presidency, well…it sounds like it is making even his fans uncomfortable (it is well known the military leans conservative/GOP, so if they are speaking out so early into his tenure as the President it is a problem).

    Or, as Steven succinctly put it..and your point is?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. gVOR08 says:

    Hey, this is a milestone. For eight years GOPs said Obama should just do what the generals said. Now Trump is actually doing that. It’s the first thing I recall seeing where GOP views of the presidency didn’t flip 180 when the party in the WH changed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. B. R. Bong says:

    The point is you were never “disconcerted” when Obama said the exact words Trump said.
    You hang on every Trump utterance, clutching your pearls and gasping with disbelief every time, while you quite apparently did not pay any attention the past eight years.

    Obama evidently never sounded like a dictator to you. Why? Because you didn’t listen.
    Obama illegally delayed implementation of the ACA mandate. Silence.
    Obama spent funds not appropriated by Congress. Silence.
    Obama ignored court orders regarding DACA. silence.

    Trump restored the rule of law.

    And you still scream that Trump is the dangerous dictator.

    Forgive me if I don’t take your bloviating seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  15. @B. R. Bong:

    Forgive me if I don’t take your bloviating seriously.

    You don’t me seriously?

    What will I do?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Not the IT Dept. says:

    It was okay when Obama said “my generals” because Obama proved multiple times during his presidency that he wasn’t a lunatic – unlike Trump, who views cabinet secretaries, Republican congress critters, ambassadors and the military the same way he viewed executives at his company. Trumpster tools like BRB ignore that very real difference.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. gVOR08 says:

    @B. R. Bong: Trump restored the rule of law? I missed that. When? When he issued Executive Orders, the tool of the devil according to your side a year ago, at a faster rate than O?

    Like news coverage, it’s all about the narrative. There was no basis to createe a narrative about Obama as a budding autarch (the RW media didn’t need any factual basis). Trump and his associates give cause for concern every day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. B. R. Bong says:

    @gVOR08:
    Exactly right.

    You missed that.

    Which is hardly surprising. You can’t read and are uninformed.

    Can you tell me how many laws Trump has actually broken? How many court orders had he violated? Any laws he’s changed all be himself?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  19. B. R. Bong says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I suppose you’ll go back to obsessing over Trump’s Twitter feed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  20. @B. R. Bong: That is one serious non sequitur of a retort, as I am pretty sure it has been over a month since I mentioned any of Trump’s tweets. Perhaps this is some strange usage of the word “obsessing” of which I was previously unaware.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. B. R. Bong says:

    Find out what whiskey he drinks and send all of my generals a case…
    Abraham Lincoln
    Some ofmy generals complain that I impair discipline by my frequent pardons…
    Abraham Lincoln

    Further, it is disconcerting to hear a president refer to the military as “my generals.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  22. @B. R. Bong: I would assume that you just Googled “my generals” to find these examples, although since it has been a day or so between the Obama and Lincoln examples, I guessing you found the Lincoln example from cable news or some similar source.

    I would try and explain my view on this, but you are not coming across as someone who cares.

    And BTW, I am not a fan of any president using the phrase “my generals” (because they aren’t the president’s generals), although context, frequency, and meaning of a given utterance matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0