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After Criticizing Generals In The Campaign, Trump Names Them To Top Jobs


Donald Trump famously said, quote, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me." But he also said, quote, "I love the generals." And he seems to want them as close advisers. He's tapped Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser. And today, he will formally announce General James Mattis as his pick for secretary of defense. And he could pick retired General David Petraeus as secretary of state. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in the studio now to talk more about this. Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: Let's talk about General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA. He pled guilty in 2015 to a misdemeanor charge for mishandling classified information, which is complicated since Trump spent the campaign lambasting Hillary Clinton for her mishandling of classified information. So how likely is it that Petraeus can get confirmed?

BOWMAN: Well, if he's nominated, I think his chances are actually pretty good for getting confirmed. General Petraeus has a lot of support on Capitol Hill from both Democrats and Republicans. But clearly, this charge will be a big deal. This is highly unusual, Rachel, much like everything else this year. You have a possible nominee for a Cabinet post who pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information, paid a fine and is on probation and would be on probation for a little while as secretary of state.



Tom, can we just play a little bit of David Petraeus yesterday? He was on ABC's "This Week" talking about this very thing. He was asked how he might reassure members of Congress that he could actually be confirmed if President-elect Trump picks him. Here's what he said.


DAVID PETRAEUS: What I would say to them is what I've acknowledged for a number of years. Five years ago, I made a serious mistake. I acknowledged it. I apologized for it. I paid a very heavy price for it. And I've learned from it. And again, they'll have to factor that in and also obviously 38.5 years of otherwise fairly, in some cases, unique service to our country in uniform and at the CIA.

GREENE: I've made a mistake. We've never heard that before in Washington, D.C. (laughter). Tom, it's - he's saying, look at my record. Don't look at this. Is that going to reassure people in the Hill?

BOWMAN: Well, what you heard on Sunday was basically a dress rehearsal, that, listen, I made a mistake, but look at my whole record. And, you know, I think it will reassure people. Again, Petraeus is popular, well-versed not only in military affairs but international issues as well. He's worked closely with foreign leaders, and he has more experience clearly than others in mind for the job like a Mitt Romney or a Rudy Giuliani. And again, you're going to have a president that is unique in American history, one that really has no experience in national policy, foreign policy or military policy. So these advisers are going to be more important than ever.

MARTIN: But I guess this is more of a technical question. Can David Petraeus even get a security clearance at this point? Because James Comey, director of the FBI, said he made false statements to the FBI. That would seem like a disqualifier, no?

BOWMAN: Well, I think your average person would have trouble getting a security clearance, but this is not your average person. This is - could be the next secretary of state. Clearly, he will get a security clearance, and I think the president will push for that. I'm not exactly sure of the mechanisms if he can be denied a security clearance by those who provide them if the president wants him to get a security clearance.

GREENE: Tom, can I - we talk about countries that are run by generals? Obviously, we are not a country that is run by generals, but these are potentially a lot of people in Trump's administration who could be generals. What does that tell us about a foreign policy?

BOWMAN: Well, I think clearly with ISIS you're going to see a more robust policy. You're going to see maybe more American troops closer to the front lines against ISIS. You're going to see maybe a heavier bombing campaign, but I don't think people should assume there'll be more militarization of foreign policy necessarily. Listen, some of these generals over the years have been against having no-fly zones, safe zones in Syria. They've been against actually being more aggressive against Iran, bombing Iranian nuclear sites. That came from civilians, some of those suggestions, so don't think that these generals are going to necessarily be pushing for that kind of a policy.

GREENE: OK, speaking this morning in our studio with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks as always.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.