Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Powerful subordinates - good points, bad points, it all works out

Here are the names of the Democratic Presidential candidates in the 2008 California primary (from my previous post of California primary results):

Joe Biden (Dem) 15,087 0.3 %
Dennis Kucinich (Dem) 19,857 0.5 %
Barack Obama (Dem) 1,686,517 42.4 %
Bill Richardson (Dem) 16,469 0.5 %
Hillary Clinton (Dem) 2,064,590 51.9 %
Chris Dodd (Dem) 6,570 0.1 %
John Edwards (Dem) 167,226 4.2 %
Mike Gravel (Dem) 6,467 0.1 %

One would expect that if the Democratic Party won the 2008 election, one, or perhaps two, of these candidates would be part of the next Administration.

I don't know that anyone would have expected FOUR of the candidates to be part of the Administration: President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson.

And who knows, perhaps there's a spot for Christopher Dodd also. But John Edwards, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich don't need to wait by the phone, I don't think.

Much has been made of comparisons between Obama's Cabinet and Lincoln's Cabinet, and I agree with those who say that the President has the power to dominate over any dissenting Cabinet member. And, for the record, it does not appear that Clinton is assuming that she has the final say on all foreign affairs issues.

While all of this may be true, there is always the danger that a renegade Cabinet member - or, for that matter, any renegade member of the Executive Branch - may cause grief for the President.

Two examples come to mind.


The most famous, of course, is the conflict between President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur. This was not just your average turf struggle, since it had Constitutional implications;

During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur challenged President Harry S. Truman's authority as foreign policy leader and commander in chief of the armed forces. This resulted in the first major test of civilian control of the military in American history....

On November 25, 1950, nearly 200,000 Chinese soldiers poured across the Yalu River, forcing U.N. forces into a full retreat to the south. MacArthur demanded authority to bomb Chinese bases north of the Yalu in China itself. But fearing a widening of the war and possible entry of the Soviet Union, Truman and his advisors refused. Instead, they ordered him to organize a phased and orderly retreat....

MacArthur proposed his own plan for victory. He wanted a complete blockade of the Communist Chinese coastline. He wanted to bomb industrial sites and other strategic targets within China. He wanted to bring Nationalist Chinese troops from Formosa to fight in Korea. Finally, he wanted the Nationalists to invade weak positions on the Communist Chinese mainland.

Appalled that MacArthur's plan could launch World War III, Truman and the top military leaders in Washington quickly rejected it. But MacArthur continued to publicly argue for his plan. He also criticized the "politicians in Washington" for refusing to allow him to bomb Chinese bases north of the Yalu River. He did all this in spite of an order from his superiors in Washington not to make any public statements on foreign or military policy without first getting approval from the Department of State or Defense....

When the Chinese offensive stalled just south of the 38th parallel in the spring of 1951, Truman began to work on a peace proposal. This would have re-established the original border between North and South Korea and removed all foreign troops from both countries.

A few days after MacArthur received notice of Truman's peace proposal, he announced his own terms for ending the fighting. In a public statement, again without getting any clearance from Washington, MacArthur taunted the Chinese for failing to conquer South Korea. He then went on to threaten to attack China unless the Chinese gave up the fight....

MacArthur's announcement was an ultimatum to China. It completely torpedoed Truman's diplomatic efforts to negotiate a cease fire. America's allies wondered who was really in charge of U.S. foreign and defense policy. Truman was stunned. "By this act," he later wrote, "I could no longer tolerate his insubordination." A few days later, MacArthur's Republican Party supporters in Congress released a letter from him in which he declared, "There is no substitute for victory."

Truman met for several days with his top advisors. In the end, they all agreed that MacArthur had to go because "the military must be controlled by civilian authority in the country."

Truman acted quickly without giving MacArthur the chance to reconsider his views or to resign. His dismissal was final and complete.


But there was another potential dissenter in a Presidential cabinet - Nixon and Ford's Defense Secretary, James Schlesinger. Ford finally fired Schlesinger after several disagreements, including issues during the fall of Saigon and the Mayaguez incident. But the most notorious set of actions by Schlesinger occurred during the Nixon Administration. Ironically, Nixon was a fervent supporter of MacArthur, not realizing that someday HE could be the President, and the tables could be turned on him.

The Atlantic tells the story:

In April of 1974, Joseph Laitin, a public-affairs official who had served in the Johnson White House, telephoned Schlesinger....Laitin broached some of his fears: Was it possible for the President of the United States to authorize the use of nuclear weapons without his secretary of defense knowing it? What if Nixon, ordered by the Supreme Court to leave office, refused to leave and called for the military to surround the Washington area? Who was in charge then? Whose orders would be obeyed in a crisis? "If I were in your job," Laitin recalls telling Schlesinger, "I would want to know the location of the combat troops nearest to downtown Washington and the chain of command." Schlesinger said only, "Nice talking to you," and hung up....

Sometime in late July of 1974, Schlesinger called in Air Force General George S. Brown, the newly appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff....In essence, Schlesinger asked Brown for a commitment that neither he nor any of the other chiefs would respond to an order from the White House calling for the use of military force without immediately informing Schlesinger. Brown dutifully relayed Schlesinger's message to the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a meeting a few hours later. He began the session, one of the joint chiefs recalls, by announcing, "I've just had the strangest conversation with the Secretary of Defense." Schlesinger had urged him not to "do anything to disturb the equilibrium of the Republic, and to make sure we're in accord." He had said, "Don't take any emergency-type action without consulting me." Brown was troubled by Schlesinger's remarks, and so was everyone else at the meeting....

Schlesinger knew that many might view his precautionary steps as the actions of an alarmist, but years later he remained proud of his decision: "First protect the country and then the Department of Defense."

Now perhaps my view of this was colored by what happened in the end - namely, Nixon's peaceful resignation - but the implications of Schlesinger's actions are profoundly troubling, especially considering what he subsequently did while in the Ford Administration. There was no perception that Ford was about to convert the Marines into his own personal fighting force, yet Schlesinger continued to challenge Ford, his superior, anyway. Ford gritted his teeth and bore it until Schlesinger launched an attack on a Congressman who passed his budgets - something that former Minority Leader Ford could not ignore.

[O]n October 20 [1975], after a contentious hearing in the House of Representatives, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger held a press conference to blast congressional leaders for “deep, savage and arbitrary cuts” in the Pentagon budget. A particular target of Schlesinger’s wrath was the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, George Mahon. Unfortunately for Schlesinger, Mahon was a dear friend of Gerald Ford’s—according to The New York Times, one of his “oldest and closest confidants in Congress.”...

In the first days of November, Ford fired Schlesinger as part of an administration-wide defense shakeup. The President also dismissed CIA Director William Colby, and relieved Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of his dual function as National Security Adviser. The brunt of his frustration, though, was directed at the defense secretary. Ford even took uncharacteristic pleasure in firing Schlesinger.

Schlesinger then joined the Carter Administration, where everything was peaceful and calm. Or not, as this May 1979 article states:

Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., ordinarily is a soft-spoken person as well as one of President Carter's chief congressional supporters. But two weeks ago he demanded that the president fire Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger "at once," calling him "ineffective, insensitive and at times an embarrassment to the president and Congress."

Schlesinger was part of the Carter purge two months later.


For what it's worth, neither Clinton nor Richardson got the Secretary of Defense job, so it's not likely that they will order troops to disobey President Obama. Then again, look at who DID get the defense portfolio; this should be interesting.

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