In the first five months of the Trump administration, the three generals -- along with Secretary of State
At home, illegal immigration is down by some 70 percent. Abroad, a new policy of principled realism seeks to re-establish deterrence through credible threats of retaliation. The generals are repairing old friendships with allies and neutrals while warning traditional enemies not to press their luck.
Trump has turned over most of the details of military operations to his generals. According to his critics, Trump is improperly outsourcing to his generals both strategic decision-making and its tactical implementation.
But is Trump really doing that?
In his campaign, Trump vowed to avoid new ground wars while not losing those he inherited. He pledged to wipe out
Those are wide but nonetheless unmistakable parameters.
Within them, the
Other presidents have done the same.
When Sherman pulled off the March to the Sea, Lincoln confessed that he had been wrongly skeptical of, totally surprised and utterly delighted with Sherman's victories. He then left it to Sherman and General
Had Sherman lost his army in the wilds of
The generals and admirals of his
Had Eisenhower failed on the Normandy beaches, Roosevelt likely would have fired him and others.
Other critics complain that decorated heroes such as Mattis, McMaster and Kelly should not stoop to work for a firebrand like Trump.
The very opposite is true.
Anti-New Dealers such as Republicans
Trump entered office with no formal political or military experience. That does not mean his business skills and innate cunning are not critical in setting national security policy -- only that he benefits from the wise counsel of veterans.
The patriotic duty for men the caliber of these three generals was to step forward and serve their commander in chief -- and thereby ensure that the country would have proven professionals carrying out the president's recalibrations.
Of course, there must be tensions between the Trump administration, its Democratic opponents and the largely apolitical Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, who have enjoyed high commands under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Liberals want the generals to leak to the press and hint that Trump is a dunce whose blunders force wise men like themselves to clean up the mess.
In truth, Trump and his generals share a quid pro quo relationship that so far has worked.
Mattis, McMaster and Kelly must know that few other presidents would have taken the heat to entrust three military men to guide national security policy. And even if another president did, he might not empower them with anything like their present latitude.
In that regard, the three generals are beholden to Trump for a historic opportunity to shape America's security posture in ways impossible during the last half-century.
On the other hand, Trump must recognize that such generals lend credibility to his role as commander in chief and signal that he is wise enough to value merit over politics.
At least for now, it is a win-win-win solution for Trump, the generals -- and the country.