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One of the most difficult problems of any society is to establish a proper relationship between civilian authority and military power. Even before the Constitutional Convention, Americans were familiar with the problems of armies, and many delegates were fearful that a standing army would be a vehicle for despotism. Many of their concerns were highlighted in The Declaration of Independence as they noted several grievances of the violation of their liberties directly attributed to a standing army (Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures, the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power, quartering large bodies of armed troops, protecting [the British military] by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.)
The Constitution in 1787 made of point of having a check on the military’s power by civilian authorities. Congress was given the sole power to declare war, to lay and collect taxes for the common defense, and they were responsible for raising and supporting armies. The President was made Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, and of the militia. This arrangement strengthened the civilian control of the military, and provided protection from having the sword and purse in a single hand. Jim Mattis’s nomination as the incoming Secretary of Defense doesn’t violate any constitutional principles, but does raise come concerns over the relationship between civilian leaders and their military counterparts.
When the Department of Defense was created in 1947, there was a specific provision that called for the Secretary of Defense to “be appointed from civilian life by the President…That a person who has within ten years been on active duty as a commissioned officer in a Regular component of the armed services shall not be eligible for appointment as Secretary of Defense.” The concern of the 80th Congress was similar to that of the Founders: a career military professional who controls the military can be a danger to the liberty of citizens. Mattis retired from active duty only three years ago, and therefore he will need Congress to grant him waiver if he is to serve as the new Secretary of Defense.
A special waiver is not unprecedented, and Congress granted one to George C. Marshall in 1950 so he could become the third Secretary of Defense and aide in the management of failing combat operations in Korea. Marshall, who was the Army Chief of Staff five years prior before his appointment as Secretary of Defense, was a very different case than that of Mattis. For starters, although Marshall spent most of his life in the military, he had significant experience in politics as the 50th Secretary of State (where he helped create the Marshall Plan) and experience in the civilian world as President of the American Red Cross. Mattis, by contrast, has no real experience in the political or civilian world, and all he has known is military life. Even Dwight Eisenhower warned, “lifelong professional soldiers, in the absence of some obvious and overriding reasons, [should] abstain from seeking high political office.” Eisenhower’s warning was not to criticize the military, but only to warn that career military service doesn’t qualify individuals for political office.
Jim Mattis has had an illustrious career as a military officer, and he is an exceptionally talented man, but he needs to show that he can shed his military persona and act only as a civilian leader. This will mean constant confrontations with current generals and military officers, and letting them know they are subordinate to civilian control. One of the most significant, but often overlooked, actions by a recent Secretary of Defense to establish civilian control over the military was that of former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Sec. Rumsfeld put out a memo on October 24, 2002 chastising those who referred to generals as Commander-in-Chief. In the memo Rumsfeld said, “the title “Commander in Chief” shall only be used to connote or indicate the President of the United States of America.” This assertion of civilian dominance over the military is exactly how Mattis needs to act in order to legitimize his role as Secretary of Defense.
One final recommendation to the incoming Secretary of Defense is to censure anyone that refers to him as “General” or even “Mad Dog”. He needs to emphasize he a now a civilian, and not a military officer. The only proper way to address him is either Mr. Secretary, or Jim, to his superiors. He should leave any other nicknames and titles to our enemies.
 At the time, Commander-in-Chief was also applied to U.S. military commanders of the U.S. unified combatant commands. Their titles became, for instance, “Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command”