Category Archives: military news

Too many generals around Trump? Maybe, but then again …

A former Joint Chiefs chairman says he is concerned that Donald J. Trump has surrounded himself with too many generals.

Retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen — who served as Joint Chiefs chairman under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama — said that Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, two former U.S. Marine Corps generals, lack “political experience.” The same can be said, according to Mullen, about former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is an active-duty U.S. Army lieutenant general.

“Jim Mattis, and John Kelly and H.R. McMaster are not politicians, but they’re operating in this political world inside the White House,” Mullen said. “It is a tough, difficult, political environment.”

OK, I get Mullen’s concern.

I’m not sure he needs to be overly concerned. I look at the generals’ presence a little differently. These men all have combat experience, which means they understand the consequences of war. It’s been said that warriors quite often are the last individuals who want to go to war. They know too well the grief and misery it brings.

Admiral Mullen perhaps ought to be more concerned that the commander in chief is reluctant to listen the best advice he gets from those “best people” with whom he pledged to bring aboard his administrative team.

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I am going to quibble briefly over something I keep hearing from Donald J. Trump.

The president keeps referring to the secretary of defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, by his former title. He once was a Marine four-star general. He’s a combat veteran who’s quite proud of his service to the country. I happen to be a fan of “Mad Dog” Mattis.

However, he’s no longer in the Marine Corps. Yeah, yeah. I know: Once a Marine, always a Marine. Blah, blah, blah.

He is a civilian. I want the president to refer to James Mattis as “Secretary Mattis,” which would reflect the principle of civilian control of the U.S. military.

Trump recently made the reference while discussing the deployment of National Guard troops along our southern border.

“Mad Dog” Mattis no longer wears a uniform to work, Mr. President. He wears suits and ties, just like you do.

So, please refer to him by his current title of “Secretary” Mattis.

There. Quibble over.

FYI, Mr. President … you need Congress to OK this one

Psst. Here’s a little secret that Donald J. Trump didn’t mention when he said he wanted to deploy American military personnel along our border with Mexico.

The president cannot act alone. He needs Congress to approve it.

Trump has declared that because our immigration laws are “so weak,” he needs to send soldiers to the border to be on the lookout for illegal immigrants sneaking into the United States of America.

Trump wants to military to patrol the border while he commences and completes construction of his “big, beautiful wall” that is going to stop the flood of bloodthirsty criminals flowing across our border. Isn’t that what he says is occurring?

So, he’s thinking out loud yet again. With no thought whatsoever. Did he say he would ask Congress to approve his request? Oh, no! He simply declared his intention to deploy American military personnel to do whatever it is they intend to do on American soil.

This is the kind of thing that requires another branch of government to sign off.

In 1957, President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Ark., to stand by while local school officials sought to integrate Central High School. Ike asked Congress for permission to do it; Congress agreed, so the president issued the order.

There remains a sequence of events that must occur before a president does something so dramatic — and drastic — as Trump has pitched.

He is merely demonstrating a show of muscle. He isn’t giving a moment of thought or deliberation to add context to what he is proposing.

That’s just Trump.

Hey, he’s “telling like it is,” right?

Privatize the VA? Never!

David Shulkin isn’t going quietly away from his job as secretary of veterans affairs. Indeed, he is firing back, claiming it “shouldn’t be this hard to serve your country.”

What’s more, he is telling the world that one of the reasons Donald Trump fired him is because he resisted efforts to privatize the nation’s second-largest federal agency.

Oh, my! How many ways can I implore the government to avoid privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs? Let me start with this: Don’t even think about it!

There are roughly 20 million American veterans alive today. Many of them rely on the VA for services for which they are owed. By the government!

I get that many vets who live in rural communities have difficulty at times obtaining medical care from the VA; they live long distances from the nearest VA clinic. Thus, comes some of the impetus to privatize medical care and other services currently provided by the VA.

As Shulkin wrote in the New York Times: The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war. 

I now will say this another way: The government that sent young men and women to potentially die in service to their country owes them the best care possible. Period! A government that accepted these Americans’ voluntary enlistment or drafted them for service must remain responsible for their health care.

I happen to be one of those Americans who once wore the uniform in service to the country. I am enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care program administered in Amarillo, Texas. I visit the Thomas E. Creek VA Medical Center for routine medical checkups.

What’s more, I do not consider it a “free” medical service; I consider it a “pre-paid” service that I earned by giving my country two years of my life. My country sent me into a war zone in the spring of 1969. I returned home and finished my tour of duty.

I will not accept the idea that the government that sent me to war now can hand over medical care to a private provider. I disagree with this form of privatization the way I disagree with private prison management. A government that spends money to arrest, charge, try and convict a criminal should also be responsible for housing that criminal — for the rest of his or her life if necessary.

The VA serves men and women who gave plenty in service to their government. It now falls on the government to repay that service by caring for these individuals — and to provide care in the most competent manner possible.

The door keeps revolving in Trump World

Here’s the latest big shakeup inside the Donald J. Trump administration. David Shulkin is out as secretary of veterans affairs. Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, is the new boss at the VA.

Trump pushed out Shulkin, a holdover from the Obama administration. Admiral Jackson will inherit a department in relatively good shape, if we are to accept the president’s tweet announcing the latest big personnel change. He thanked Shulkin for his service to the country and for the work he did on behalf of our “great veterans.”

I do expect the president to have an unkind word or two to tweet, however, regarding Shulkin’s Obama connection, given that’s Trump’s modus operandi: anything to do with his immediate predecessor is a bad thing.

Shulkin got caught up in a controversy over excessive spending on personal and department travel. I would caution the president to avoid blasting Shulkin just because Barack Obama appointed him; Trump, remember, did keep him on board.

As one of those who receives care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, I do appreciate that the agency has recovered a good bit from the shameful episode it went through with reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care in some hospitals. The shameful chapter cost retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki his job as veterans secretary. Indeed, he needed to go.

Is this the end of the Trump shakeup? Well, I am not holding my breath. I expect some more “bodies” to be thrown over the wall. Then again, that’s almost becoming normal in the world of Trump, who actually has acknowledged how he thrives on chaos.

I do hope Admiral Jackson can keep the VA ship moving forward while continuing to provide care for our nation’s “great veterans.”

‘Mad Dog’ can’t work with Bolton? Who knew?

Imagine my non-surprise to hear this tidbit on a drizzly Texas Panhandle day. It is that Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis told associates he isn’t sure he can work with John Bolton were he to be named national security adviser to the Donald J. Trump administration.

Who knew? Yes?

You see, Mattis is a grownup. He’s a retired Marine Corps general with combat experience. He knows war. He’s seen it up close. He’s been to hell and lived to talk about it … were he so inclined.

Bolton is more of a “chicken hawk.” He doesn’t have the kind of real-world experience that Mattis has piled up. Yet he stands ready to recommend war at almost any turn. The Hill reports that White House chief of staff John Kelly, another retired Marine general, also is unhappy with Bolton’s selection as national security adviser.

Well, now the president has appointed Bolton to be the national security adviser. The decision appears to have isolated Mattis, who had a kindred spirit in the national security adviser’s chair for about a year. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is stepping down as national security adviser and reportedly is retiring from the Army.

He and Mattis double-teamed as a reasonable tandem of advisers who were willing to advise Trump against acting rashly — even though they weren’t always able to persuade the president to follow their advice.

Gen. McMaster is now gone. Is “Mad Dog” Mattis the next grownup to be shown the door?

Chaos is king in the Trump White House.

If only POTUS had served

Donald J. Trump’s decision to implement a ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military is wrong on at least two levels.

Yes, he has made some exceptions to the ban, allowing certain individuals to continue their service.

However, he is promulgating the bias against transgendered individuals, allowing a form of discrimination against them because they have decided to change their sexual identity. The discriminatory nature of the decision is offensive on its face, just as it was in Texas when the Legislature sought to enact the “Bathroom Bill” that would have required individuals to use public restrooms that aligned with the sex stated on their birth certificate; that bill didn’t see the light of day.

Here is another factor that rankles many critics of the president, such as yours truly.

This man seeks to deny Americans the privilege of serving their country in uniform, of going to battle for their nation and denying them the right to do the very thing that young Donald Trump sought to avoid doing back when he was of age during another time of war.

Trump obtained at least five medical deferments to keep him out of serving during the Vietnam War. He cited “bone spurs,” or some ailment that hasn’t been independently confirmed so many decades later.

The very idea that a commander in chief who avoided service in the military would deny others the right to serve their country — and to go to war on our behalf if they got the order — is even more offensive on its face.

Many millions of Americans answered the call during that earlier time. Say what you will about citizens’ rights that they employed during that time of tumult. I understand that young men of privilege are entitled to avoid military service if they have the chance.

However, that history does tend to stick in our craw.

Get ready for Mattis vs. Bolton

Donald Trump’s national security team just cannot get its legs under it. It cannot function as a cohesive team that imparts advice to a president who is willing to (a) listen to it and (b) follow it.

With that we now have a new national security adviser, uber-super hawk John Bolton who quite likely will clash openly with Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

I’m going to pull for Mad Dog to win this fight, although Bolton now is the man of the hour, the guy who’s got the president’s ear.

Heaven help us if Bolton’s world view carries the day in the West Wing of the White House.

Bolton is known around the world as one with an itchy trigger finger. He favors pre-emptive military action against North Korea. Indeed, he has favored “putting boots on the ground” in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan … you name it, Bolton wants to flex U.S. military muscle.

He despises the nuclear arms deal worked out by the Obama administration that seeks to de-nuclearize Iran.

There’s Bolton’s profile in brief.

How about Mattis? He favors the Iran nuclear deal. He believes it is working and is worth retaining. And North Korea? Well, the retired Marine Corps general, a decorated combat veteran to boot, believes diplomacy should remain as Option No. 1 in our efforts to talk the reclusive Marxist regime out of striking at South Korea, or Japan — or the United States of America!

Mattis’s world view is forged by a career that has seen him serve up close in harm’s way. Bolton’s world view comes from a different perspective. He doesn’t have the kind of front-line military experience that Mattis does; Bolton served six years in the Maryland Army National Guard.

I want to bring this to your attention only to suggest that there might be yet another ideological storm brewing within the Trump White House.

As I have noted before, “Mad Dog” Mattis is one of the few grownups who have signed on to serve this president.

I do not believe John Bolton falls into that category of public servant.

The pilot deserved higher honor than he got

Flash back 50 years ago and you find yourself recalling one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history: 1968.

We’ll soon mark a couple of assassinations that tore the nation’s heart apart. We’ve already noted the 50 years since a one-time enemy launched an offensive against our troops in Vietnam, changing the nation’s fundamental attitude about whether the war could be won on the battlefield. At the end of this year we will mark a mission to the moon that gave us a glimmer of hope after all that heartache.

Fifty years ago today, a U.S. Army pilot — the late Hugh Thompson — landed his helicopter at My Lai, South Vietnam, and told fellow soldiers that he would kill them all if they continued to massacre innocent men, women and children. His crew chief and door gunner were standing by to carry out the order — if Thompson were to deliver it. The soldiers backed off and spared the nation from even more tragedy.

The My Lai massacre became one of the flashpoints of the Vietnam War. Army Lt. William Calley, who commanded the men who took part in the massacre, stood trial and served prison time for his role in that horrific event.

What has gone largely unremembered is the heroism that Thompson exhibited when he confronted the men who had gunned down hundreds of Vietnamese victims.

As Thompson told the Los Angeles Times before his death in 2006: “I thank God to this day that everybody did stay cool and nobody opened up. … It was time to stop it, and I figured, at that point, that was the only way the madness, or whatever you want to call it, could be stopped.”

The Army sought to hide the massacre. It sought to keep it out of public view. Then the famed journalist Seymour Hersh uncovered it and reported it worldwide.

Thompson eventually received the Soldier’s Medal for “heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”

He also deserved a nation’s thanks and gratitude for stopping evil when he spotted it from on high.

Russia remains off Trump’s danger-zone radar

I want to join the chorus of Donald J. Trump’s critics who cannot fathom why the president of the United States cannot bring himself to say anything critical about Vladimir Putin, the strongman who runs Russia.

Putin this past week announced the unveiling of weapons systems he said would neutralize the U.S. missile defense systems. His aim seems to be able to strike the United States of America whenever he felt like it.

The response from Trump? Nothing. Not a frigging sound! He isn’t challenging Putin’s assertion of military superiority the way he has done, say, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

What the hell is the matter with this guy, the president of the United States?

I endorse the view put forward late this past week from a retired U.S. Army general, Barry McCaffrey, who contends that Russia in reality is nothing more than a developing Third World country. It economy is smaller than California’s economy, McCaffrey said; Russia’s standing army is inferior; it has a population that is less than half of that of the United States; its submarine and surface-missile weapons systems essentially are a joke, he said.

In no way, according to McCaffrey — a Vietnam War combat veteran who had a major command during the Persian Gulf War — would Russia dare launch a first strike against the United States.

Where is the “Little Rocket Man” epithet that the president could use against Putin? Why doesn’t he tweet some idiotic rejoinder about how his “button is bigger” than the one at Putin’s fingertips?

Good grief, man! Has the Russian strongman cast some sort of spell over the president of the United States?

Or … is there validity to reports of something fishy involving Trump’s business dealings in Russia?

Oh, I forgot. Trump said he has “no business activity” in Russia. No deals have been struck.

And we are supposed to believe him? Sure thing.