This episode with Trump and the SEALs is extremely troubling
This episode with Trump and the SEALs is extremely troubling
Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher and other Navy SEALs gave the young captive medical aid that day in Iraq in 2017, sedating him and cutting an airway in his throat to help him breathe. Then, without warning, according to colleagues, Chief Gallagher pulled a small hunting knife from a sheath and stabbed the sedated captive in the neck.
The same Chief Gallagher who later posed for a photograph holding the dead captive up by the hair has now been celebrated on the campaign trail by President Trump, who upended the military code of justice to protect him from the punishment resulting from the episode. Prodded by Fox News, Mr. Trump has made Chief Gallagher a cause célèbre, trumpeting him as an argument for his re-election.
The violent encounter in a faraway land opened a two-year affair that would pit a Pentagon hierarchy wedded to longstanding rules of combat and discipline against a commander in chief with no experience in uniform but a finely honed sense of grievance against authority. The highest ranks in the Navy insisted Chief Gallagher be held accountable. Mr. Trump overruled the chain of command and the secretary of the Navy was fired.
The case of the president and a commando accused of war crimes offers a lesson in how Mr. Trump presides over the armed forces three years after taking office. While he boasts of supporting the military, he has come to distrust the generals and admirals who run it. Rather than accept information from his own government, he responds to television reports that grab his interest. Warned against crossing lines, he bulldozes past precedent and norms.
As a result, the president finds himself more removed than ever from a disenchanted military command, adding the armed forces to the institutions under his authority that he has feuded with, along with the intelligence community, law enforcement agencies and diplomatic corps.
This reminded me of this story from a couple of years ago:
Defense Secretary James Mattis has been charged with coming up with a new strategy for the Afghanistan conflict and Trump has notably, some would say recklessly, ceded substantial control of military decision-making to his generals.
So, what gives? Trump wants to know. Where’s his win? “We aren’t winning,” Trump complained, according to officials. “We are losing.” To help make his generals better understand what he was talking about the president of the United States compared U.S. policy in Afghanistan to the time his favorite restaurant in Manhattan closed down for renovations in the 1980s. From NBC News:
After a year, Trump said, the consultant’s only suggestion was that the restaurant needed a bigger kitchen. Officials said Trump kept stressing the idea that lousy advice cost the owner a year of lost business and that talking to the restaurant’s waiters instead might have yielded a better result.
He also said the tendency is to assume if someone isn’t a three-star general he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that in his own experience in business talking to low-ranking workers has gotten him better outcomes.
It was a lie, of course. None of that happened the way he said it did.
But it’s clear that his belief that the low-level folks know better (only the ones who lick his boots, of course) stems not from some deep identification with the working class but rather with the fact that he only listens to people who confirm his biases. Since he is shockingly stupid, he often finds himself at odds with experts. And he is extremely insecure around people with leadership experience because he knows that they see through him.
There is also this story:
He said in a series of interviews that he does not need to read extensively because he reaches the right decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.”
Trump said he is skeptical of experts because “they can’t see the forest for the trees.” He believes that when he makes decisions, people see that he instinctively knows the right thing to do: “A lot of people said, ‘Man, he was more accurate than guys who have studied it all the time.’ ”
Anyway, back to Trump and the war criminals:
“We’re going to take care of our warriors and I will always stick up for our great fighters,” Mr. Trump told a rally in Florida as he depicted the military hierarchy as part of “the deep state” he vowed to dismantle. “People can sit there in air-conditioned offices and complain, but you know what? It doesn’t matter to me whatsoever.”
The president’s handling of the case has distressed active-duty and retired officers and the civilians who work closely with them. Mr. Trump’s intervention, they said, emboldens war criminals and erodes the order of a professional military.
“He’s interfering with the chain of command, which is trying to police its own ranks,” said Peter D. Feaver, a specialist on civilian-military relations at Duke University and former aide to President George W. Bush. “They’re trying to clean up their act and in the middle of it the president parachutes in — and not from information from his own commanders but from news talking heads who are clearly gaming the system.”
Chris Shumake, a former sniper who served in Chief Gallagher’s platoon, said in an interview that he was troubled by the impact the president’s intervention could have on the SEALs.
“It’s blown up bigger than any of us could have ever expected, and turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams,” said Mr. Shumake, speaking publicly for the first time. “He’s trying to show he has the troops’ backs, but he’s saying he doesn’t trust any of the troops or their leaders to make the right decisions.”
Chief Gallagher, who has denied any wrongdoing, declined through his lawyer to be interviewed. Mr. Trump’s allies said the president was standing up to political correctness that hamstrings the warriors the nation asks to defend it, as if war should be fought according to lawyerly rules.
How far will people like this go? Trump, for instance, has always been in favor of torture and mass executions. He likes putting people in camps, we know that. And he has control of the biggest nuclear arsenal on earth.
He is showing us who he is. If people think tax cuts and judges matter more than that they are just as dangerous as he is.