Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has tweeted out that she won’t support a law allowing Gen. Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense with 7 years of his military separation, because she believes in civilian control of the military. Nobody I know disagrees with the principle, and there’s plenty of civilian control built in, starting with the fact that Mattis himself is now a civilian, as is the incoming president, and most of the members of Congress.
Maybe Gillibrand needs a history lesson.
The only other time such a law was needed was when former Gen. George Marshall moved from the State Department to Defense under Pres. Truman. Marshall, for the benefit of Sen Gillibrand, was the author of something called “The Marshall Plan,” which saved much of Western Europe from Communism by helping it to rebuild after World War II. Truman asked him to serve as Secretary of Defense during something called “The Korean War,” which saved South Korea from Communism by defending it against the Chinese and Russians.
Pres. Truman knew a thing or two about civilian control of the military. For instance, during the Korean War, he found himself standing up to and relieving the popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who thought he knew enough to dictate the scope and terms of the war to the president.
Gillibrand’s about my age and got into Dartmouth at a time when the Ivies hadn’t descended into madness, so I assume she’s familiar with at least some of these facts. (In case she’s not, she’s got a 50th birthday coming up in a week; maybe someone can buy her David McCullough’s biography of Truman for a present.)
More likely, she’s posturing as a leader of The Resistance, positioning herself for a 2020 White House run. Rumor has it that she’s already been contacting Clinton donors with that possibility in mind. She may also remember 1989, when Democrats torpedoed the nomination of fellow Senator John Tower for Defense Secretary, and believe that this is a road to weakening a President Trump at the outset.
It may play well with her base, and with the party, which is where she needs to start. But Gen. Mattis is revered among his troops and admired by the public at large. Starting with an attack on his nomination might not be the swiftest move in the long run.