Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, is an excellent choice to round out the President-Elect’s cabinet. With over 40 years as a Marine, including leading the drug cartel and border-focused Southern Command, he’ll bring experience and good judgment to a position which oversees dozens of agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.
He also knows firsthand the cost of losing loved ones during war. His son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
At first, it seems like having three different generals in high-ranking Cabinet positions might be too much. In fact, numerous op-eds have argued as much. When you break these officers down to their core elements and what they represent, however, it quickly becomes clear how exceptionally qualified they are.
A military career of 40 years means a life of public service, education and real-world experience. Each of these men has extensive educational credentials; Kelly himself holds two Master’s degrees, including one from Georgetown, while Mattis and Flynn also have advanced degrees. They came of age as officers in the “hollow Army” post-Vietnam era, whose strategic thinking was dominated by Soviet threats and low-intensity conflicts in South America. Over time, these generals had to adapt to the emerging counterinsurgency threat, and they did so to great success.
This cycle of innovation breaks from stereotype; many people expect military men to be unchangeable in their ideas, stuck in routine. But these are not typical E-7’s with 20 years in, waiting to yell at young Marines about their sleeve rolls. These are highly adaptive strategic thinkers responsible for winning battles. And that requires practical application of intellectual ideas, something that doesn’t come easy to most people, let alone someone expected to leverage force across continents.
There are many reasons to think that Kelly will make an excellent Secretary of DHS: for one, he’s not a career lawyer, like his predecessor, Jeh Johnson. He will almost certainly have ideas for how to modernize, prioritize and strategize DHS’ resources and agencies, many of which conduct military-style operations.
Furthermore, he’s been in charge of the military’s most close-to-home command, SouthCom, which exposed him to immigration, drug trafficking and transnational problems in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. It’s these exact same issues he will address as Secretary of Homeland Security, only this time, he’ll be able to command the civilian branches he was not in charge of before (relax, we all know the Coast Guard is military. Sort of.).
Of the three Secretaries of Homeland Security in the last eight years, two have been lawyers and career politicians without a hint of national security experience, and the only one who did have excellent credentials served for a mere two months.
To be sure, President-elect Trump also has no foreign policy or national security experience. That’s why it’s a wise choice to appoint highly-educated, well-read, innovative generals as cabinet members. These men (yes, even Mike Flynn) will likely prove to be checks on Trump’s more outlandish policies, as well as people who can empathize and understand the motivations of the people they are commanding.
They’re not Washington politicians. They’re not trial attorneys. They’re generals. And they’re exactly what the nation needs right now after eight years of political engineering in the National Security apparatus. And they’re going to be a hell of a lot better than Ben Rhodes.