U.S. civil-military relations in the age of Trump

Donald Trump with senior military leaders and the secretary of defense
President Trump with Army Maj. Gen. Michael Howard (2R), Secretary of Defense James Mattis (L) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford (R), at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. (source: dpa)
  • Media reports suggest high levels of conflict between military and civilian leaders in the U.S. government
  • Disagreements between these circles are common, but have never led to a constitutional crisis
  • There is little reason to believe such a crisis is occurring in the current administration

Since his election as president of the United States, almost every aspect of Donald Trump’s policies has been controversial, and relations between civilian leaders and the military seem no different. If civil-military relations have indeed reached crisis levels under the Trump presidency, it would represent a stark contrast with previous administrations. But is that really the case? Throughout American history, with a few notable exceptions, civil-military relations have not been a contentious issue, and even then never led to a political crisis. Despite the turmoil surrounding the Trump presidency, and the significant attention focused on concerns over civil-military cooperation, relationships are forming in a more traditional manner than the public discourse might suggest.

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