How Trump Damaged U.S. Civil-Military Relations—and How to Repair Them

How Trump Damaged U.S. Civil-Military Relations—and How to Repair Them
President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit St. John’s Church with then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, middle, and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, in Washington, June 1, 2020 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

The U.S. military has played a prominent role in Donald Trump’s presidency, at times serving as a prop to flatter his ego, at others as a tool for political gain, but also often as a punching bag to deflect blame. In the early days of his administration, Trump filled his Cabinet and White House staff with retired generals, only to successively fire them or watch them resign over policy differences. Later, his repeated pardons of U.S. soldiers convicted by military courts of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan drove a wedge between himself and a military leadership committed to upholding discipline and the international laws of war. Most recently, his attempt to deploy the military to quell protests against racism and police brutality in cities across the U.S. ultimately led to the firing of his third defense secretary, Mark Esper.

It is perhaps no surprise that Trump’s disregard for norms and the rule of law would extend to his approach to the military, with serious implications for the relationship between the military and the civilian leadership at the top of the chain of command. This week on Trend Lines, Risa Brooks joins WPR editor-in-chief Judah Grunstein for a discussion on the damage Trump’s presidency has done to civil-military relations and what it will take to repair them. Dr. Brooks is the Allis Chalmers associate professor of political science at Marquette University, a nonresident senior associate in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and an adjunct scholar at West Point’s Modern War Institute.


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Relevant Articles on WPR:
The Many Questions Trump’s Pardons Raise About Civil-Military Relations
Could America’s Senior Military Leaders Ever Revolt Against Trump?
America’s Political Turmoil Is Threatening the Norms of Civil-Military Relations
Is There Trouble Brewing for Civil-Military Relations in the U.S.?
U.S. Civil-Military Relations’ Neglected Component: Congress

Trend Lines is edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

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