Ill-equipped to conduct serious journalism at a time of national urgency, the media will obsess about Donald Trump’s vulgar reference last night to his anatomy, ignoring his most important and devastating utterance in a campaign in which he has left little doubt about his contempt for democracy and the moral necessity to defeat him either before or after he gets the GOP presidential nomination.
Here is the exchange:
[BRET] BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.
So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?
TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.
BAIER: But they’re illegal.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you, you look at the Middle East. They’re chopping off heads. They’re chopping off the heads of Christians and anybody else that happens to be in the way. They’re drowning people in steel cages. And he — now we’re talking about waterboarding.
This really started with Ted, a question was asked of Ted last — two debates ago about waterboarding. And Ted was, you know, having a hard time with that question, to be totally honest with you. They then came to me, what do you think of waterboarding? I said it’s fine. And if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger, too, because, frankly…
… that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine — can you imagine these people,these animals over in the Middle East, that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding. That’s my opinion.
BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?
TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.
BAIER: Even targeting terrorists’ families?
TRUMP: Well, look, you know, when a family flies into the World Trade Center, a man flies into the World Trade Center, and his family gets sent back to where they were going — and I think most of you know where they went — and, by the way, it wasn’t Iraq — but they went back to a certain territory, they knew what was happening. . . .
“Committing torture (and I don’t mean waterboarding; I mean something that fits the legal definition of acting under color of law so as to cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering — severe mental suffering being defined in durational terms), ordering torture, killing or ordering killing of people not themselves involved in hostilities, are all war crimes,” former attorney general Michael Mukasey tells Right Turn. “No U.S. general would obey such an order; no U.S. soldier would obey such an order; as they are well aware, ‘I was only following orders’ has been rejected as a defense since Nuremberg, if not before.” He explains, “What would ensue would be widespread disobedience, with nobody being charged successfully with insubordination for refusing to follow an unlawful order.” Moreover, he suggests that “it is hard to imagine anything that so well embodies the concept of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ as such an order, except perhaps actual treason.”
For all of his professed concern and respect for the military Trump considers them to be errand boys, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. A commander in chief who truly respects the troops and looks out for them does not order them to commit war crimes, setting off a constitutional crisis and subjecting American service personnel to court marshal and criminal prosecution. His attitude — I say it, so they will follow — is the thinking of a thug, a proto-fascist and a narcissistic personality. No party can tolerate such a figure, one who is overtly declaring he will not follow the rule of law. No thinking Republican in good conscience can defend such a person.
Eliot Cohen, a former State Department official and military scholar, tells Right Turn that he is gravely concerned about the suggestion that military men and women will do as Trump says even if it violates their constitutional oaths. “My fear would be that some might obey,” he says. “But my confidence is that they would not, and in particular that senior officers would be forthright.” He warns: “It would be a crisis in civilian military relations of a kind we have not had in many decades. The troops involved would be in violation of the law, and liable to be punished accordingly.”
We reached out to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was just named as Trump’s top national security adviser. His office refused to say whether he had been consulted on the issue, whether he considered it an impeachable offense and whether such action would endanger our own troops. It seems Sessions, like Christie, has made a pact with the Devil and now is in the position of providing cover for Trump’s noxious views.
Alas, it is not enough to say “no comment” when confronted with someone who threatens to unravel the Constitution, which Sessions took an oath to defend. He can keep his oath or support Trump, not both. Silence is assent. (Quin Hillyer, a longtime Sessions supporter, Alabama Republican activist and former House candidate, emails Right Turn that he and other Sessions supporters “think he [in joining up with Trump] just showed a lack of judgment so astonishing as to be almost certainly disqualifying.” He added, “I am very, very sad to see a good senator give aid and comfort to the worst human being who has ever won a Republican primary.”)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom Trump defamed and survived torture of the type Trump would apparently insist our own military officers to engage in, was traveling today, although his spokeswoman directed me to recent floor remarks, including this: “Our nation needs a Commander-in-Chief who will make clear to those that fight on our behalf that they are defending this sacred ideal, and that sacrificing our national honor and our respect for human dignity will make it harder, not easier, to prevail in this war. And our nation needs a Commander-in-Chief that reminds us that in the worst of times, through the chaos and terror of war, when facing cruelty, suffering and loss, that we are always Americans – different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.” Obviously, that cannot be Trump.
Trump has used the military as props. He hid behind their shield when he did not want to debate, and then failed to deliver on his pledge of $6 million to veterans’ groups. Now, he treats them with contempt and puts them in peril of prosecution. He would order a 20 yr. old to commit war crimes, and all that entails, without a care in the world about that soldier’s fate or America’s stature in the world. What a tough guy. Someone always takes the fall and pays the price for Trump’s gross errors in judgement. In peddling phony degrees or lousy steaks, however, only money is at issue. Much more is at issue for a commander in chief.
The GOP should have the nerve to boot him out of the party, and its leaders should have the gumption to say they will never, ever support him.
UPDATE: Dr. Tim Kane, veteran USAF intelligence officer, currently an economist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, emails me: “This is a deep field of military law, and also deeply woven into military culture. Every soldier is taught that they are obligated to obey orders, but only lawful orders. No president is going to change that, and yes, forcing the issue would be impeachable (in my opinion).” He adds, “I was trained as a combat interrogator & studied the Geneva convention. This idea of ‘going after the families’ is at best red meat for voters, but stains our international reputation. Of course it creates a moral justification for terrorists targeting innocents.”
UPDATE II: Trump, apparently told that what he was saying was outrageous and illegal, now tells the Wall Street Journal that what he said at the debate is not his position. And this man wants to be commander and chief of our armed forces?! It’s hard to know if he is evil, ignorant or both.