While there was an impromptu beginning to this discussion last week with the appointment of GEN (ret) Kelly and the rapid departure of Anthony Scaramucci, the questions of who controls the military and how they do it are important ones. That is, the military, for its Generals and Admirals, rank-and-file officers, and enlisted members, the military is run by a civilian. Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution clearly names the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. Many Presidents have experience in the military, whether they were professional soldiers or citizen-soldiers, who interrupted their civilian lives to serve. However, regardless of prior experience, arguably and somewhat bluntly, the constitutional function of the President of the United States is to command and control the military, understanding how it fits into a larger picture, and the function of the military is to execute the missions assigned to it. Framed another way, the President serves as the boss of multiple companies, and the military serves as the employees of one company. While the grouping of the military as "employees" will be examined in a future post, for now, it is a workable analogy. In this analogy, it can be easily seen that the boss will have one perspective on the organization, and the employees, another. It's not that the employees in this organization aren't capable - in fact, they are very skilled at their jobs - but that, the solution to a problem may come from another of the boss' companies, or a mentality only obtained by being the boss. Returning from the analogy, a foreign policy solution could use "soft" power instead of "hard" power, or the experience of seeing the problem as the President instead of a military leader. The Commander-in-Chief's obligation is to independently control the military, and that requires a mindset that is open to alternative possibilities and more importantly, is able to lead.
This obligation immediately brings to mind a simple question - what if it is not met? Civil-military relations isn't a binary state with the two positions being "fine" and "revolt." At the extremes, an Executive that has been completely ideologically assimilated by the military is dangerous because the military would effectively control the executive. At the polar opposite position, a military that has no representation in leadership and is completely opposed to its leaders can revolt. In between those extremes is a massive gray area in which anything but the extremes is workable. So, what if there is is some overlap between the Commander-in-Chief and military leaders? Short of those extremes, it is not the end of the world, but where on that spectrum the interactions between the President and the military fall is important to study and understand.
These questions are especially important when viewed in context of the current administration. The President has nominated, and the Senate has confirmed, a respectable number of current or former military generals as advisors, specifically, GEN (ret) Kelly as Homeland Security Secretary, GEN (ret) Mattis as Defense Secretary, and LTG H. R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Any of those posts being helmed by individuals with significant prior military experience is not newsworthy by itself, but in tandem with other developments, it raises the question of the ideological overlap between the Executive and the military.
Concerning ideological assimilation of the Executive by military leadership, we know that the current White House Chief of Staff is set upon placing military discipline on the West Wing. Additionally, we know that LTG McMaster is currently on active duty in his post as National Security Advisor. Beyond that, highlighting the desire to have some separation between the Executive and military leadership, GEN (ret) Mattis had to secure a waiver from Congress to be confirmed to his current post. Why is that? Sixty-five years ago, Congress passed legislation which stated that it was "the sense" of lawmakers that "no additional appointments of military men to [the Office of Secretary of Defense] shall be approved after Secretary Marshall. In 2008, Congress reduced the original ten-year bar on transitioning from military service to the Secretary of Defense to seven years. Secretary Mattis, at the time of his confirmation, had only been retired from the military for three years, forcing him to secure a waiver from Congress. At the time of the confirmation hearings, civilian control of the military was discussed, but, GEN (ret) Mattis was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate.
Finally, in addition to a number of senior military leaders who were recently in that post, or currently in the military, President Trump is believed to be deferential to his Generals. This anticipated deference, with the number of Generals at senior levels of government raise the questions of who is leading the military and can the overseer separate itself from those that it is to oversee?