There’s something disturbing about Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard has something of a dissident stance within the Democratic party. She resigned from the DNC during the primaries over claims of bias against Bernie Sanders. She very conspicuously met with President-elect Trump a couple weeks ago. She’s very critical of President Obama’s foreign policy which she calls a “neo-con” foreign policy. These all seem like reasonable critiques, though not all ones I’d agree with.
But she just answered a question on CNN that struck me as very troubling and made me see some of her earlier comments in a different light. It was about the number of generals Donald Trump is putting in senior cabinet positions.
I have added emphasis to passages I think are particularly important.
TAPPER: Quickly before you go, I know that some of your colleagues, democrats, have expressed concern about too many retired generals being in the trump cabinet. You have the national security adviser general Flynn and he’s talked about general Mattis and general Kelly at the Pentagon and homeland security. Do you share their concerns or disagree?
GABBARD: I don’t share their concerns. As a veteran and as someone still serving in the Hawaii National Guard, I found it pretty offensive for people to outright discriminate against veterans. Here you have generals who have literally spent their whole lives serving our country, putting service before self, putting their lives on the line to defend democracy. Yet people are criticizing them and discriminating against them saying, just because you served as a general previously you are disqualified from serving in a high position of leadership in our government. These people, arguably, have put far more on the line and are far more deeply personally committed to upholding and protecting our democracy than their critics.
I certainly don’t think she was addressing me. But I think the criticisms I outlined earlier today are similar to the ones she is addressing. I have seen no one say that former generals can’t serve in high level government positions. Generals routinely serve. No one is saying anything like that. So right there she’s tendentiously distorting the concerns. Certainly, no one is ‘discriminating’ against anyone.
The criticism is centered on how Trump’s cabinet is dominated by recently retired generals. National Security Advisor, Defense Secretary, Homeland Security Secretary, possibly Secretary of State. That slate is unprecedented in all of our history. More might conceivably be added.
The issue of civilian control of the military and wariness of military or ex-military influence over the civilian government isn’t some new-fangled idea from coastal cosmopolitan elites. It’s deeply rooted in the American political tradition. Indeed it was even more potent earlier in the country’s history. That’s why ex-generals are actually barred from serving as Secretary of Defense for seven years. Mattis needs a specific waiver. Indeed, the importance of military subordination to civilian government and the penumbra of concerns like the one we’re discussing here are deeply inculcated in the U.S. military’s officer corps itself — for obvious reasons.
There’s no law against what Trump is doing (except kinda with the Sec Def choice). But it’s an issue. It’s a very legitimate criticism, whether there might be some extenuating or unique reasons for doing it in this case.
The real kicker in my mind comes at the end when Gabbard says that these men are “far more deeply personally committed to upholding and protecting our democracy than their critics.” The suggestion here is not about the particular individuals, who I believe are deeply committed to America and its democratic institutions. But what Gabbard is suggesting here is that as generals they are more committed than civilians.
That is the kernel of an idea that has destroyed many democracies, the idea that career military officers are simply better, more patriotic, more efficient than civilians. That is a deeply dangerous idea that needs to be snuffed out whenever it raises up its head. It is completely at odds with the entire American tradition.
It’s something I’d expect to hear from some militarist Fox News yahoo. Not from an elected members of the House, certainly not from a Democratic member of the House.