Late-term political appointments made by presidents are generally considered to be resume builders for loyalists as they transition to the private sector. They are expected to sit at their desk and not screw up.
Shortly after being named as the acting secretary of Defense, Christopher Miller screwed up. He named retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor as his special assistant. Col. Macgregor had written a 2012 article urging the disestablishment of the U.S. Marine Corps. Appointing Col. Macgregor — who has histrionically attacked a beloved American institution — is the Republican equivalent of a Democrat appointing Colin Kaepernick to a commission designed to encourage patriotism; dumb as dirt.
The Republicans are going into two runoff races in Georgia that will determine control of the Senate. They should win, but Georgia is no longer a reliably red state. North Carolina excepted, Georgia probably has more active duty and former Marines — Black, White and Hispanic — than any other state in the country.
Marines and their families are notoriously tribal, and Col. Macgregor’s appointment has already sent shock waves through the extended Marine Corps family. The last thing the Republican candidates in Georgia need is to be portrayed as anti-Marine. Mr. Miller and Col. Macgregor have given the Democrats a golden opportunity.
Col. Macgregor has been a Fox News commentator and prides himself on being a gadfly in the Rush Limbaugh mold. The difference is that Rush never aspired to public office. He understands that he would be too polarizing.
To be fair to Mr. Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, this thing has flown below their radar. A president has the right to expect that his appointees will act with some degree of sound judgment. If it has not already, the Macgregor appointment will probably come as a “WTF” moment for both Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell as it will for the two Republican senatorial candidates in the coming Georgia run-off.
Mr. Miller has put them in a pickle. He should have known better. Macgregor was briefly considered for nomination to be ambassador to Germany, but wiser Republicans warned that his impolitic writings as a think tanker would likely prevent his confirmation, even by the current Republican majority Senate.
Mr. Miller has held several mid-level national security posts in the Trump administration — including directing the National Counterterrorism Center — and before that as deputy secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC). His credentials to run the entire Defense Department are thin, but the position was only supposed to be for a couple of months. What could possibly go wrong? Douglas Macgregor went wrong.
During the George W. Bush presidency, I was briefly considered for the SOLIC position recently occupied by Mr. Miller; but I destroyed my chances by frankly telling my interviewer that I would advocate for enlisting Sunni militiamen into the war against al Qaeda in Iraq. Although this strategy was eventually successfully adopted, it would have put me at odds with the administration at the time.
In my case, the vetting process worked. I remained a pro bono special adviser to the deputy secretary of Defense, but my advice remained largely confidential. In Col. Macgregor’s case, the vetting process broke down if one existed at all.
Trying to do away with the Marine Corps has been a third rail in American politics. Harry Truman attempted to get rid of the Marine Corps and had to eat his words when the Marine landing at Inchon saved his political bacon during the Korean War. Dwight Eisenhower disliked the Marines, but he was wisely advised not to take them on during his presidency.
This is an unnecessary fight that the Republicans do not need at this crucial time. The issue now is damage control. Mr. Trump is already on thin ground with many Marines for his handling of Gens. Mattis and Kelly, both genuine Marine Corps war heroes.
First, Col. Miller and Col. Macgregor must be immediately — and very publicly — fired. Second, Mitch McConnell and both Georgia Republican senatorial candidates must make statements repudiating Col. Macgregor and supporting the Corps. Showing up at a few Toys for Tots events would not hurt either.
The last thing Republicans need in December and early January is to have the Democrats showing scenes of Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi with a voice-over saying; “a vote for Republicans is a vote against the Marines.” I am a Republican and retired Marine; but if forced to choose, I am a Marine first.
• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the graduate level.
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