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​Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reminded Gen. Joseph Dunford during his confirmation hearing for reappointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Sept. 26, 2017, that he has a responsibility to keep not only the President, but also Congress informed, of important military issues. Screenshot photo.

​Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) expressed disappointment on Tuesday in the Trump administration’s leadership in matters of national defense. At the Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing for the reappointment of Gen. Joseph Dunford as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman McCain and Ranking Member Reed each used their opening statements to level criticisms of the administration and emphasize the importance of civilian control of the US military.

“At present, this committee, and the Congress more broadly, is not receiving the information and respect it deserves as a co-equal branch of government. Too often members of this committee are learning in the media for the first time about major national security and military activities,” McCain said, abrogating the committee’s constitutional responsibility to provide oversight.

McCain acknowledged the potential danger of civilian policy-makers micromanaging military operations, saying “the last administration distinguished itself in this regard.” But he cautioned Dunford to avoid “an overcorrection” of what he said were the Obama administration’s overbearing errors. McCain said that a strong civil-military dialogue is especially important “now, when so many civilian leaders at the Department of Defense are either missing or are themselves recently retired military officers.”

“We need to restore balance in civil-military relations,” McCain said, and balance between branches of government as well. “We do not work for the President or the executive branch,” McCain said. And he reminded Dunford that, in his role as Chairman, he has a duty to advise not only the President, but Congress as well, to provide a check on executive power.

“We are not, and will not be, a rubber stamp,” McCain warned.

Reed had harsher words for Trump, asking the committee to be “mindful that our President continues to show a lack of in-depth knowledge or nuance in foreign policy and defense matters.” Reed expressed frustration that “decisions on our defense posture and complicated military personnel issues are promulgated by presidential Tweet.”

These messaging strategies “lend more uncertainty to already dangerous times,” Reed said. “I believe the risk of miscalculation and unintended consequences have never been higher.”

Later in the hearing, Reed pointed out that the US has no appointed ambassador in South Korea currently to help respond to rising tensions with North Korea. Dunford acknowledged that he has spoken with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about “the difficulty he has right now…with some of the gaps that continue to exist.”