Seven Days in May, written by Fletcher Kneble and Charles Bailey and published in 1962, portrays a tense, nearly successful coup of American government by a cadre of senior generals. A quote on the cover of the paperback attributed to the Army Times said, “They say it can’t happen here, but if it does, it probably will be pretty much as Knebel and Bailey say.”
Wrong. Over 18 days in August three senior generals accomplished a coup peacefully, co-opting a volatile President and inexperienced Secretary of State.
On July 31, retired Marine four-star General John Kelly moved in as President Trump’s Chief of Staff. Over the first 18 days in August, he began consolidating his power, culminating in the ouster of the President’s closest advisor Steve Bannon.
Kelly’s rise gives him and two other generals extraordinary power in the Trump administration. Retired Marine four-star General Jim Mattis serves as Secretary of Defense. Active-duty three-star Army General H.R. McMaster serves as National Security Advisor. In particular, with Bannon’s ouster and no-one appointed to replace Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security, these three now dominate military and national security policy decisions.
Business Insider discounts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying there is “concern among some diplomats that he is not a major player in Trump’s national security team.”
“Connected by their faith in order and global norms, these military leaders are rapidly consolidating power throughout the executive branch as they counsel a volatile president,” said a Washington Post article.
In the novel, generals attempted a military coup to replace a president they saw as weak and misguided. Ironically, one of their concerns was their president’s willingness to trust Russia. Many experienced foreign policy experts see our current president as weak and misguided, and he wants to work with Russia.
The influence of the generals became clear last week when President Trump announced not only will the United States maintain its military presence in Afghanistan indefinitely but will send more troops and expand their role. Prior to that, Trump and Bannon were singing from the same song book – how many years must a failed war go on before it is allowed to end?
Until last week, Trump had called leaders “stupid” who wanted continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Now, Vice President Pence is justifying expanded military operations and proclaiming opportunities for a “stable” and “prosperous” Afghanistan, talk reminiscent of another failed war, Vietnam.
A Reuters commentary said, “Bannon’s departure may have made Trump more likely to listen to his generals and dive more deeply into the Afghanistan mess.” Indeed, Bannon lost out and the generals took control, unlike Seven Days in May where patriots thwarted the generals’ coup.
Trump’s bellicose approach to North Korea, statements about intervening in Venezuela, hints he may pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, and, now, his flip-flop on Afghanistan feed concerns that the generals will push military force ahead of diplomacy.
Still and all, it’s too soon to say this coup puts warbringers in charge. Wise and cautious generals can be effective peacemakers. Pray for peace.