The Generals

By Mustafa Rasheed

The Trump administration’s cabinet and officials have been the subject of national attention in matters of controversy and ideology. One interesting characteristic of this administration is its striking number of military officials in key positions. Appropriately, General Joseph Dunford is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster is the National Security Advisor. However, General James Mattis serves as the Secretary of Defense and General John Kelly serves as the White House Chief of Staff. Understanding the background, influence, and agendas of these generals illustrates a deeper insight into the functions of the administration and what might unfold in the future.


General John Francis Kelly was born and raised in Boston, MA. After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1970, his military career spans numerous positions such as the Director of the Infantry Officer Course at the Basic School in Quantico, VA,  Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander in Belgium, and several tours with the 1st and 2nd Marine Division as a commander. General Kelly was deployed on multiple assignments to Iraq since 2002 with the 1st Marine Division and Ⅰ Marine Expeditionary Force. After serving as Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Kelly attained the rank of General and commanded the U.S. Southern Command until 2016.  Kelly is also a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Advanced Course, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, School for Advanced Warfare, and the National War College.

In the Trump administration, most likely because of his experience commanding the U.S. Southern Command, Kelly was appointed as Secretary of Homeland Security. Out of all his cabinet colleagues, Kelly was marked by his effective ability to execute the immigration policies of President Trump. In his short oversight of the department, he began DHS on hardline path against illegal immigration, perhaps even stepping out of legal bounds in doing so. His effectiveness made him a special candidate to take over the position of Reince Priebus, the former White House Chief of Staff. Kelly’s ascension was applauded by many who felt his military ethic could control a White House plagued by staff turnover, leaks, poor communication, and a politically inexperienced president. Kelly has been able to corral the White House and many of the president’s errors, however, President’s Trump’s personality continues to cause issues such as his Twitter tirades and detractions from the teleprompter. Himself stating this has been one of his difficult jobs ever, Kelly will have to recover his own public image as he has made controversial comments on the Civil War and political institutions as well as his record at DHS. He will also have to continue working with his staff in order to calm President Trump where he falls short.

James Mattis.jpgSamuel Corum | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

General James Norman Mattis was born in Pullman, Washington and was raised in Richland, Washington. He enlisted in the Marine Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Mattis has been marked by his leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan. His experience in Iraq goes back to 1991 as an infantry battalion leader. Mattis has lead an expeditionary brigade in Afghanistan and a Marine Division in Iraq in 2003. Mattis eventually commanded U.S. Central Command. At  U.S.Central Command, according to his profile by the Department of Defense, “he directed military operations of more than 200,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Cost Guardsmen, Marines, and allied forces across the Middle East”. After four years of retirement, President Trump appointed Mattis as the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Secretary Mattis’s tenure in the Department of Defense has certainly witnessed an increase of hostility around the world, arguably however, the increase of hostility could be more attributed to President Trump’s rhetoric and this White House’s isolationist and populist attitude. Mattis’s Defense Department has overseen a tremendous reduction of the Islamic State’s presence. Despite ground forces being executed primarily by the Iraqi Army and other forces. He, similar to the following generals, is a disciplined and calculated force guiding American military policy. Mattis recently released an unclassified summary of his National Defense Strategy. Interestingly, in his strategy unveiling at Johns Hopkins, Mattis indicated a shift in defense strategy. Rather than focusing on terrorism and militant groups, Mattis has turned his attention to “revisionist powers” such as Russia and China. A departure from the Obama administration, Mattis’s shift in policy should be a sense of fresh air for Americans who want to get out of the Middle East. However, if Mattis moves his attention away from the places where terrorism grew, it can absolutely grow again. This is why the United States must not leaves former-terrorist riddled areas unchecked. Moderate forces that provide education and reconstruction must take quick hold of the regions before other hostile-ideological forces take hold.

Joseph Dunford PICAP

General Joseph Francis Dunford Jr. was born in Boston and raised in Quincy, Massachusetts. He was commissioned in 1977. General Dunford is notable for commanding the 5th Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ⅰ Marine Expeditionary Force, and Marine Forces U.S. Central Command. Other ranking positions include Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces-Afghanistan. He is currently the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as of 2015. According to General Dunford’s bio from the Department of Defense, Dunford’s education is vast as he is, “A graduate of the U.S. Army Ranger School Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, and the U.S. Army War College, General Dunford also earned master’s degrees in Government from Georgetown University and in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy”.

In the whirlwind of publicity that has captured ranking officials in the Trump administration, Dunford has remained relatively quiet. He continues his position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs from the Obama administration and continues to brief President Trump on the issues. As President Trump continues to promote his foreign policy agenda, Dunford will have to adapt from the “leading from behind” foreign policy of Obama to the more rhetorical and intimidating politics of Trump. He seems to be a voice of reason in the administration, notably reinforcing efforts to keep working with Pakistan despite President Trump’s attack on the country for allegedly funding terrorism. Dunford will be a strong voice in the Situation Room, not only as the top general in the country, but as a transitional voice from the previous administration

HR McmasterKamm/AFP/Getty Images

Lieutenant General Herbert Raymond McMaster was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from West Point in 1984 and went on to attain higher learning at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After publishing his thesis and eventual book, Dereliction of Duty, McMaster became known as a “rebel” for his critical stance on military strategy during the Vietnam War. That classification eroded as McMaster became known as a brilliant tactician in the Iraq War. He is notable for commanding the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment successfully against an overwhelming force of Iraqi Republican Guard tanks. He also invaded and stabilized the Iraqi city of Tal Afar with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. McMaster was a close adviser to General Petraeus. Since the Iraq War, McMaster has been instrumental in the U.S. Central Command in several positions. He was promoted to Lieutenant General in the Army by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in 2014.  He continued to lead the effort behind U.S. military strategy, tactics, and policy through several institutions. In February 2017, after the abrupt departure of General Michael Flynn, McMaster was selected by President Trump as his National Security Advisor.

The center of McMaster’s attention at the moment is North Korea, where Kim Jong-Un is rapidly building his nuclear arsenal. McMaster’s speciality ground war as evidence through his Iraq campaigns. He is also a strategic genius in theory and in practice. McMaster has maintained an offensive position towards the North Koreans, hinting that war increases every day and the United States should consider preventative means. This begs the question whether the North Korean regime wants to use its arsenal as a means to consolidate its own power or whether to use it against South Korea or the United States. McMaster feels more pressure should be applied to North Korea due to its missile tests that seem to intimidate South Korean, Japanese, and American territory. McMaster’s sentiments are not unfounded as the appeasement and underestimation of the regime’s nuclear arsenal by the Obama administration had left the United States in a difficult negotiating position. At the same time, McMaster must be delicate in applying pressure because if North Korea originally intended to use the arsenal as a tool to prevent attacks on their homeland, increasing pressure or even a premeditated invasion may escalate their intentions from defensive to offensive.

Andrew Harrer / Pool via Getty Images 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s