President-Elect Donald Trump has selected General John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly, the Marine Corps General who led the United States Southern Command for the past four years also led the Multi-National Force-West in Iraq from 2008 to 2009. General Kelly is the highest ranking military official to have lost a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.
According to numerous reports, General Kelly’s all-too-personal exposure to the costs of war played an important factor in Trump’s pick of the General to lead DHS. Specifically, Trump wants people on his national security team who are familiar with the real-world costs of sending troops into combat.
While the pick of another military commander as a Cabinet-level official may strike some as a movement away from civilian control, the rationale of the pick of General Kelley almost sends the opposition message. Throughout the campaign, Trump was adamant that he was opposed to the War in Iraq and was deeply opposed to military interventionism abroad. While General Kelly is certainly not a mere one-note appointment, the note that is the clearest is the one that rings for the real-life costs of war. For many libertarian-leaning, non-interventionists, the fact that a Republican President is making sure that he can be grounded when sending troops into harm’s way is an important step towards making sure that American lives aren’t discarded over adventurism around the globe.
Notably, General Kelly’s last four years have been spent at USSOUTHCOM which, unlike some other commands, is not focused on active combat, but rather on projecting the soft power aims of United States. The principal jurisdiction of the Southern Command is the Caribbean and South America. General Kelly opposed calls for an end to prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
General Kelly, who served in his role as Commander of USSOUTHCOM under President Obama, was also a deputy of then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Panetta has endorsed General Kelly.
It is probably not an understatement to say that the appointment of General Kelly as DHS Secretary is not just Trump surrounding himself with like-minded military men. Rather, Kelly’s appointment seems to be an attempt for Trump to make sure that any defense decisions he makes are ones that have nuance and care with respect to how they are undertaken. It is likely that General Kelly’s appointment will not face difficult headwinds in the Senate, especially given his status as having been endorsed by former Obama officials.