When President Barack Obama saluted with a coffee cup in hand a Marine standing guard by the Marine One helicopter in 2014, Republicans pounced, decrying his supposed lack of respect for the military. When Obama’s timetable for winding down forces in Afghanistan seemed to coincide with the election calendar, conservatives (me included) criticized mixing political and military decision-making.
It remains a wonder then that so many Republicans give President Trump a pass on far more serious snubs and for his blatant politicization of the military. (It’s one of many reasons that has prompted conservative foreign policy gurus such as my colleague Max Boot and Eliot Cohen to repudiate the party of Trump enablers.) The New York Times recounted: Trump “canceled a trip to a cemetery in France where American soldiers from World War I are buried. He did not go to the observance at Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. He has not visited American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.” In addition, he “has also alarmed Defense Department officials with seemingly off-the-cuff remarks about military matters.” Flippant remarks about dismissing transgender members of the military, ending our presence in Syria, canceling joint exercises with South Korea and pondering a military option in Venezuela have alarmed military commanders, who have now learned to largely ignore his tweets and verbal outbursts.
Had Obama behaved in such ways, surely rock-solid hawks such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) would have gone crazy. But Cotton and other Republicans are now first and foremost apologists for Trump. If he does it, it’s fine — or not worthy of remark. If Obama did it, he didn’t love America, in their book.
However, it’s impossible to ignore or overlook Trump’s useless deployment of thousands of troops at the border for the sake of ginning up his xenophobic base in time for the midterms. Gordon Adams, Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Isaiah Wilson III (a professor emeritus and two retired colonels) write:
Mr. Trump’s announcement and the deployment that followed (of roughly 5,900) were probably perfectly legal. But we are a bipartisan threesome with decades of experience in and with the Pentagon, and to us, this act creates a dangerous precedent. We fear this was lost in the public hand-wringing over the decision, so let us be clear: The president used America’s military forces not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election outcome, an unprecedented use of the military by a sitting president. … As many senior military retirees have argued, the forces are not and should not be a political instrument. They are not toy soldiers to be moved around by political leaders but a neutral institution, politically speaking.
It’s worth debating whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis should have quit over the issue, but that’s an issue of the proper response to an outrageous abuse of the military; it’s a given that Trump abused our armed forces (who will sit by the border, far from the caravan, while their families celebrate Thanksgiving without them).
Trump also yanked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan and threatened to do the same to ex-military and ex-intelligence officials who criticized his administration. The notion that the clearances are given to assist current military and intelligence officials in the performance of their duties did not seem to register with Trump.
Then to make Trump’s contempt for the military all the more stark, he now decides to attack the commander of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. No, really. He did that. The Post reports:
President Trump derided retired Adm. William H. McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer” and suggested that the venerated former head of U.S. Special Operations Command should have apprehended Osama bin Laden faster.
The comments, which the president made in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday,” represent the latest point of tension between Trump and a group of retired general officers who have criticized the commander in chief publicly for his handling of national security and military matters.
McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL, oversaw the 2011 operation that killed bin Laden at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After Trump revoked former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance in the summer, McRaven wrote an article in The Washington Post defending Brennan as a man of unparalleled integrity and asked the president to revoke his clearance, as well, in solidarity. McRaven also criticized Trump more broadly.
Some oversight hearings on the politicization of the troops or even a simple House resolution deploring Trump’s remarks would be in order.
More important, it’s time for Democrats to rise to the occasion, put the Tom Cottons and others on the spot and object to these outrageous episodes. In 2020, Democrats, a GOP primary challenger and/or an independent conservative should take on the president’s disrespectful conduct and challenge his politicization of the military. The same should go for those challenging Republican incumbent lawmakers who sit idly by as Trump engages in conduct they would have deemed impeachable in the case of Obama.