Just two months ago, it was hard to imagine – on Friday, 20 January, a man who shattered the mould for how to become president will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. As Donald Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions make their way through Senate confirmation hearings, we here at PAX are taking a good look to see if we can figure out what their time in office will mean for our work on peace and security.
It is always difficult to predict what policies a new administration will be able to implement. With Mr Trump, who considers unpredictability a virtue, it is nearly impossible. In addition to his own lack of a clear policy goals (not to mention lack of interest in policy), the majority of Mr. Trump’s nominees have little or no experience in government, and hence no track record of policy choices.
However, in the area which will most greatly affect PAX’s work, foreign and defence policy, most of the members of Trump´s team do have experience in public service (with the glaring exception of Rex Tillerson, the nominee for Secretary of State). Which brings us to the next stumbling block: some of that experience is in the military. James Mattis, nominated for Secretary of Defence, and Michael Flynn, who will become National Security Advisor, are both recently retired military officers. (In order for Mattis to be confirmed, Congress must first approve an exception for the law stating that a military officer must be at least 7 years out of the service before he or she can assume a cabinet-level function.)
Civilian control of the military is a core value in the United States. George Washington himself set the precedent, resigning his commission years before becoming the first president. At the time, this was considered highly unusual. Civilian control of the military has now the norm, but as with so many other norms, Mr Trump is now challenging it. What will the plethora of military men (three at cabinet level) mean for PAX’s core work, protecting civilians from the violence of war?
This is just one of a the myriad questions Mr Trump’s choices for his cabinet raise.
To help get a handle on what a Trump administration might mean for peacebuilding work, over the next two weeks PAX experts will blog about various Trump appointees. (In addition to those named above, we plan to look at Michael Pompeo, nominated to head the CIA, Nikki Haley, ambassador to the UN, David Friedman, ambassador to Israel, and John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security.)
We’re calling this blog series Trump’s Troops — in each blog post, one PAX expert will react to one appointee’s standpoint. We hope this gives you a more complete picture of what to expect in 2017 and beyond, and how to prepare for what I am afraid will be the all-too-necessary push-back.