- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Pentagon tiptoed gingerly into the debate over President Trump’s relations with the military, as the Army’s top general said Pentagon leaders would recommend sending American troops into combat only when it is necessary and in the nation’s interest.

The comments by Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, came a day after Mr. Trump acknowledged he sometimes had rocky relations with his top commanders, who he said too often favored going to war to keep defense contractors “happy.”

Gen. McConville would not address the commander in chief’s remarks specifically during an online interview hosted by Defense One, a website that covers national security issues, but said Pentagon commanders would only recommend combat as “a last resort.”

“We live in a political environment, but we’re an apolitical organization,” Gen. McConville said. “It really must remain that way, especially with an election coming up.”

But he defended the integrity of his fellow senior officers, noting that many of the generals and admirals leading the U.S. armed forces had children who were in the ranks.

“Many of these leaders have sons and daughters that have gone to combat or maybe are in combat right now,” Gen. McConville said.

His comments were closely watched in a charged political atmosphere in which Mr. Trump has angrily denied anonymous accounts that he disparaged America’s war dead and captured, questioned the intelligence of senior commanders, and challenged a recent poll showed many in the military shifting their support to Democratic rival former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

“I’m not saying the military is in love with me,” Mr. Trump said Monday. “The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs, make the planes, make everything else stay happy.”

But Gen. McConville Tuesday said, “I can assure the American people, the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required for national security and as a last resort. We take it very, very seriously how we make our recommendations.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Mr. Trump’s Labor Day comments were directed more toward the defense industry rather than any individual at the Pentagon, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who spent a long time with defense giant Raytheon before taking the Pentagon post.

Mr. Trump “is not going to let some lobbyist here in Washington, D.C., just because they want a new defense contract, suggest [U.S. troops] need to stay abroad one minute longer than they should,” Mr. Meadows told Fox News.

Mr. Trump attacked the cozy relationships between top commanders and the defense industry even though he himself has repeatedly pointed to U.S. military sales abroad as one of his major foreign policy achievements. While General McConville was defending the senior leadership in the Pentagon, his boss, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy, was defending President Trump’s equally controversial plan to withdraw nearly 12,000 troops from Germany. Opponents have called the move a snub to a major NATO ally.

Mr. McCarthy argued that the withdrawal — and the shift of many U.S. forces to other European locations — will act as a more effective deterrent for any would-be adversary. Other U.S. forces will benefit from training in the U.S. and the flexibility to deploy where they are needed, he said.

“It gives us a much stronger disposition across the continent to emphasize that deterrence. Deterrence is the key,” he said. “It sends the strongest message you possibly could to an ally.”

Sending more U.S.-based troops to Europe for military exercises will help the U.S. military master the type of dynamic force deployment that will be necessary in the event of a conflict, he said.

“Whether you have 34,000 or 50,000 [U.S. troops in Europe], you’re going to need thousands more to come from the States,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Our ability to force project is unparalleled around the planet. Whether that’s a light formation or a heavy formation, it’s only a matter of days and we’ll be there to support our allies.”

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