If Donald Trump wins the next election, he will attempt to turn the men and women of the United States armed forces into praetorians loyal not to the Constitution, but only to him. This project will likely be among his administration’s highest priorities. It will not be easy: The overwhelming majority of America’s service people are professionals and patriots. I know this from teaching senior officers for 25 years at the Naval War College. As president, Trump came to understand it too, when he found that “his generals” were not, in fact, mere employees of a Trump property.
But the former president and the people around him have learned from that experience. The last time around, Trump’s efforts to pack the Defense Department with cranks and flunkies came too late to bring the military under his full political control. The president and his advisers were slow-footed and disorganized, and lacked familiarity with Washington politics. They were hindered as well by the courage and professionalism of the military officers and civilian appointees who, side by side, serve in the Defense Department.
Trump now nurses deep grudges against these officers and civilians, who slow-rolled and smothered his various illegal and autocratic impulses, including his enraged demand to kill the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2017, and his desire to deploy America’s military against its own citizens during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. [Continue reading…]