Friday, December 02, 2016


i) Except for Bannon, Trump has made some good picks for the incoming administration. If you wonder why I think Bannon is bad, here's some background:

To be sure, some of these are political payoff for early, important supporters. But they're still good in their own right.

How significant this is depends on whether he gives them a free hand. If it's just for show, then that's a Trump-l'œil. 

Another litmus test is whether he will cancel Obama's subversive executive orders. Likewise, will he keep his promise on judicial nominees? 

His appointees and nominees for economic positions will be less significant than in some administrations, inasmuch as Trump will view himself as the Economist-in-Chief. 

ii) We're waiting for the shoe to drop on Secretary of State. But thus far his picks are shaping up to be a potentially bellicose foreign policy. On the upside, this hopefully means we will ally with Israel to prevent Iran from getting the bomb–assuming it's not too late to prevent it. The deranged policy of the Obama administration has given Iran eight years to play out the clock and positively enabled Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons. Just in general, I hope the Trump administration will reverse the pro-Muslim, anti-Israel policies of the Obama administration. 

We also need to get serious about state-sponsored cyberterrorism. The Obama administration has allowed hackers from hostile regimes to attack our computer systems with impunity. And his indifference only emboldens them to escalate their attacks. In a civilization where everything is run by computers, that's a deadly threat to our national security. 

By the same token, Obama constantly groveled before foreign dignitaries, abjectly apologizing for American history and foreign policy. He said that to countries with atrocious human rights records. Hopefully, the new administration will put an end to that obsequious, self-loathing rhetoric. 

iii) That said, there may be some reasons for concern. There's the question of how many senior military will occupy civilian positions. Our system is based on civilian control of the military. I don't mind the occasional retired admiral or general in civilian positions, but Trump may be surrounding himself generals. As one news outlet put it,

More than any other president-elect in recent memory, Donald Trump has sought out military brass to populate his inner circle. Trump announced Thursday that he wants retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as his defense secretary — a post traditionally designated for a civilian. Trump is also considering retired Army Gen. David Petraeus for secretary of state, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly for secretary of state or homeland security, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers as the director of national intelligence. His national security adviser-designate, Michael Flynn, retired from the Army as a lieutenant general after decades as a military intelligence officer. And CIA Director-designate Mike Pompeo graduated from West Point and served during the Cold War as an Army officer. 

It remains to be seen what the final shakedown will be, but one problem with having too many generals in key civilian positions is a militaristic orientation. For instance, Gen. Michael Hayden is a patriot, but he suffers from an inadequate appreciation for the privacy rights of ordinary Americans. It can also be beneficial to have an outside perspective on issues in distinction to the military culture. That prevents tunnel vision. 

iv) Another potential reason for concern. Eisenhower didn't need to prove his toughness or resolve to our enemies. That was a given. 

By contrast, Trump cultivates a tough-guy image. He feels the need to prove himself. That may make him a warmonger. 

A military paradox is that ideally, you should have a military so formidable that you never have to use it. No one will dare provoke you because retaliation would be so devastating. A credible threat of fearsome reprisal is the best deterrent. That worked for Eisenhower. He was able to keep us out of new wars. 

v) The there's the question of ISIS. If ISIS poses a significant threat to our national security, then we should do what's necessary, within reason, to neutralize the threat. Or if that's not feasible, at least lower the threat level. Cut it down to size. 

vi) There is, though, a temptation to intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, ISIS seems to commit ostentatious atrocities to taunt or shame other countries into responding. Perhaps ISIS is hoping to lure them into an ambush. If so, we shouldn't take the bait. 

The American military exists to protect American lives, not foreigners. As a rule, an American president has no moral warrant to sacrifice American troops to save the lives of foreigners.  

Although humanitarian wars are idealistic, I think they're generally unethical. The justification for having a military is national defense. And the justification of national defense is an extension of self-defense. 

I have a duty to protect my dependents. I have a duty to take a bullet for my family. I don't have a prima facie duty to take a bullet for a stranger, or even a neighbor. 

However, self-defense sometimes requires a common defense, where we pool our collective resources. An individual can't do it alone. And that's the rationale for some military alliances. Say my country and your country share a common enemy. My country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, and your country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, but if we combine forces, then our combined forces can defeat our common enemy. So we're doing each other a favor. 

The principle in that case is that I'm prepared to take a bullet for you if you're prepared to take a bullet for me. I will defend your family if you defend my family. So that's predicated on mutual risk and reciprocity. 

Humanitarian wars violate that principle. It is wrong to get our soldiers killed to prevent foreigners from getting killed. That's because there's no reciprocity. The foreigners don't return the favor. 

It's morally wrong to treat American lives as less valuable than foreign lives. It's morally wrong for a president to send an American soldier to his death, thereby depriving his own relatives, &c., to save a stranger. For his own relatives have a prior claim on his presence in their lives. 

From a surfeit of altruism, you can voluntarily risk your life to save a stranger, but that's not obligatory. And you may have prior obligations to friends and family. Social duties are concentric. 

The justification for foreign wars is to defend vital American interests. Admittedly, that justification can be easily abused by stretching what counts as a vital American interest. 


  1. Good post. I didn't realized how many former generals Trump was considering for his cabinet...

  2. Wow, I agree with veritasdomain. I hadn't realized how many military men Trump was considering either! That's eye-opening (no pun intended).