Fire the Commandant (if He Leaked the Memos)
There are even higher obligations than taking care of Marines.
Newsweek is reporting the Commandant of the Marine Corps recently leaked internal DOD memos (actual memos embedded in the Newsweek report) outlining the risk of continued deployment of Marines to the SW border and reprogramming money appropriated for military housing construction. As one friend has pointed out to me in separate correspondence, this is thinly sourced — only Newsweek is reporting CMC (or perhaps more accurately, Headquarters, US Marine Corps) was the source of the leak so far, and no other major outlet has validated it. So the rest of this post is predicated on the future substantiation to some greater degree of certainty the CMC, or his staff, with his tacit or explicit permission, leaked the memos.
If he leaked these memos, he should be fired. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
The Commandant is a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, equal in authority and status to the other three services within DOD. (Don’t get me started on that ridiculous “part of the Navy” trope — the Corps and the Navy are separate and co-equal services which share a service secretary and are interreliant for several other areas of competence, including TACAIR, medical and dental, some legal support functions, security forces for certain naval installations, etc.) The Commandant’s chain of command flows through the SECDEF directly to the President. He is the President’s principal advisor on matters pertaining to the Marine Corps. He owes the President his undivided and unmitigated loyalty, no matter who is in office. And if General Neller released those memos, he betrayed that loyalty. The penalty must be immediate sacking.
The President is entitled to expect the loyalty of his generals, particularly his service chiefs. This is a cornerstone of civil military relations, stated perhaps most succinctly in Samuel Huntington’s seminal treatise on the uncomfortable relationship between a democratic republic and its most powerful institution: the armed forces. Huntington’s The Soldier and the State describes a theory of “objective civilian control” whereby the threat posed to government by the military is mitigated by the professionalization of the armed forces — essentially, a military which understands its constitutional obligations is less likely to contravene them. Neller’s leaking the memos — a time honored Washington technique of influencing public debate — runs counter to these principles, by undermining the President’s — particularly THIS President’s — confidence in the trustworthiness of the Commandant’s advice. General Neller had plenty of avenues to make his priorities known, and the memos, if kept internal, represent one correct technique in executing the service chief’s responsibility to the SECDEF, the SECNAV, and the President — to provide risk assessments and best military advice. What’s not included in the job description of a service chief is to decide the best outcome and to engage in scorched earth, by any means necessary subterfuge to ensure that outcome prevails. Leaking memos in other agencies in commonplace, but the armed forces have to be better than that.
Don’t get me wrong: helping Marine families is super important. I get it. I was a Marine 22 years and I care about Marines and their families as much as anyone. But it cannot be our HIGHEST priority. In fact, if it were truly our highest priority, the Department of the Navy would never have entered these deals with private property managers (PPV‘s) with so little oversight and performance controls. Protecting the sanctity of the relationship between our general officers and the President is also pretty important. Decisions about military and national security strategy, war and peace, and the lives of those same Marines depend on the trust a President is entitled to expect between a CINC and his generals. A service chief simply doesn’t get to substitute his judgment for that of the President and engage in subterfuge to pressure his President. If a colonel did that to his Commanding General, he’d quickly be shown the door, because the trust between a regimental or brigade commander and his commanding general is important. And the trust between a service chief and the President is 100 times more important.