Why Donald Trump Likes To Surround Himself With Generals
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President Trump goes back and forth on using the U.S. military. He used to advocate pulling out of Afghanistan, for instance, and now he's committing additional forces there. But he's clearly a big fan of using men with military experience for top positions in his administration. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports on how military leadership translates.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was fired last week, the decision was announced by Trump's chief of staff, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. And it was senior military officers that Trump turned to this week when he made his Afghanistan speech. Here was U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley on CNN yesterday.
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NIKKI HALEY: He listened to his generals. He saw what they were saying.
ZARROLI: As a teenager, Trump attended a military academy. And he's made clear he reveres the toughness and discipline of military life. He's appointed four generals to top positions. Tom Kolditz is a retired brigadier general.
THOMAS KOLDITZ: I think that he likes the idea of military leadership because military leadership is very decisive and audacious at times. And, you know, general officers are very good at simplifying problems and then getting the job done.
ZARROLI: In the military, promising recruits are taught how to inspire and lead, and those skills can make a difference later. Former VA secretary and Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald knows that firsthand. He went to West Point and spent five years in the Army. Then he went into the corporate world. He had to make adjustments. Army life is regimented. You even get a manual telling you how to organize your desk.
ROBERT MCDONALD: So when I got to the Procter & Gamble company, I went to my boss. And I said, you know, where's the field manual that tells you how to organize your desk? And of course, they thought I was crazy.
ZARROLI: The leadership skills McDonald learned in the military stayed with him throughout his career. He mentions some words in the West Point prayer.
MCDONALD: Those words are, help me to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. And it's remarkable, but in business, as in life, the easier thing is usually the wrong thing to do.
ZARROLI: Northwestern finance professor Carola Frydman looked at the track record of CEOs who were in the military.
CAROLA FRYDMAN: We found pretty striking evidence that CEOs with military background are much less likely to commit corporate fraud. There is a sense that being ethical is really important.
ZARROLI: Frydman says veterans don't tend to do any better than other CEOs, but they're good in a crisis. And it's this ability to bring order by cracking the whip that seems to appeal to President Trump. But retired General Kolditz says today's military officers are taught to lead by inspiring trust and respect. They don't just bark orders. Kolditz says there's something else Trump may not understand.
KOLDITZ: Donald Trump's grown up in a scrappier place, where it was pretty much about making money for yourself. And, you know, he is brand-new to public service.
ZARROLI: It's not hard to imagine generals who were taught this ideal of public service clashing with a president who prizes personal loyalty. But people such as Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster bring something else to the table that Trump may come to appreciate. They are savvy insiders with track records on policy matters. That could benefit a White House where political experience is in short supply. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.