With any other president, the retirement and promotion of top military brass would be routine news for everyone outside the US defense establishment. That being said, today’s Wall Street journal headline “Military Faces a Sweeping Turnover Among Upper Commanders“ might catch a few eyes, though perhaps not for the reasons you expect.
According to reporters Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef, Trump is planning big changes to the upper ranks of the military as part of an emphasis on stealth operations. Lubold and Youssef write:
As the U.S. seeks to minimize its footprint in conflict zones around the world, the Pentagon has leaned more heavily on the forces that fall under the Special Operations Command.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is likely the most important voice Trump listens to in choosing the new military leaders, which are:
These changes are due to expected retirements, and the nominees have sterling credentials. The nominations require Senate confirmation, which is usually routine.
This announcement’s timing raises some questions. Why announce these changes all at once, and why now? One possibility is that Trump’s recent revocation of the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan has gotten pushback from several major military figures, including former Navy Adm. William McRaven and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, leading to headlines like David A. Grahams “Trump’s Risky War of Choice Against the Generals” two days ago in the Atlantic.
Maybe this announcement is the administration’s way of reminding the active duty military that Trump is still very much in charge. Or maybe it’s Mattis who’s in charge here, since Trump has “no clue what’s going on in the White House”. Who can say?