Yesterday my Twitter feed contained four pictures taken from the evidence at Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s trial. It showed a sick sick guy grinning over the body of a dead 14 year old boy. It also showed other boots on the ground around him, witnesses, from his squad. It sent waves of disgust down my spine and rid me of whatever last remaining “tolerance” I might have been able to find for Trump and his apologists on the Right.
Today, the New York Times published a long report on the entire matter, including the murder:
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 Fox News hero stabbed a prisoner, one who was sedated already, and fourteen years old.
There are signs out there that pardoning Gallagher may end up hurting Trump far more than his attempt to extort Ukraine. Trump’s inability to understand morality, ethics and law, coupled with his willingness to reach in and micro-manage any organization as the one who “knows better,” has put Trump into an acute showdown with “his” own military brass according to story in the Times:
“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.”
“Distrust the generals and admirals who run it.” That is because the admirals and generals who run the Pentagon are more like Jim Comey in their approach to government than say … Lindsey Graham. These admirals and generals are the most loyal people on Earth. The problem for Trump is that the Pentagon’s loyalty is to the constitution and nation, not Trump personally. So, the fact that Trump would come to “distrust” the military is the most predictable aspect of the Trump presidency. Trump cannot handle any dynamic where there exists a loyalty to anything above him personally.
Said one expert:
“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.”
Note that list. The intelligence community, law enforcement agencies, and diplomatic corps, all agencies with which Trump is “feuding.” Each agency has a “higher calling” that transcends the political aspirations of any president that may come along. These are the areas of government most impervious to a strict “loyalty test” of the type that Comey failed. Thus, rather than be less “political” with them, or accept that these agencies must operate differently, Trump chooses to feud with them. In the end, Trump must have his loyalty or the person or agency will feel his wrath.
So why might this matter so much? Why might it matter even more than the Ukrainian extortion and impeachment? Or why might it matter even more than Trump’s feuds with the FBI, CIA, NSA and State Department.
Simple, really. None of those departments control one third of the nation’s budged. The military does.
In many respects, government is like an iceberg. We only see the outer tip. The “sausage-making” mostly occurs behind closed doors, within relationships. Trumps is not Saddam Hussein yet. He still sits in the White House by consent of the governed, and in particular, by consent of the truly powerful, the nation’s wealthy. No one believes that Trump would be able to get away with all that he does if we were in a very poor economy. Nor should anyone believe that Trump will be allowed to threaten the one trillion dollar industry that is the United States military budget.
The defense contracting industry benefits from the fact that the public largely trusts the DOD to do its thing without a lot of oversight. They love that. There is a ton of fat falling down around the campfire outside the Pentagon, because – for the most part – the Defense Department has earned that trust. They have not played politics, they have tried to keep themselves largely accountable, and a lot of people get rich of them. Those same rich people do not want that dynamic to change.
Want to know how the dynamic might change? The military might get seen as too political. If it is seen as “too political,” budgets might get decreased, or the spending might be examined more closely. Some of that trust might be lost.
The military doesn’t want that. They could easily see Trump and his political loyalty test as a threat to the way they do business (Trump is a threat to the way they do business). If Trump is going to reach in and tell them how to do their jobs, their job will “change,” and they don’t want that. Instead, the military might use some of its unseen political muscle to get Trump ousted, attempting to return matters to “normal,” where people can continue to get rich safely and predictably.
There is also a less cynical element to this. There are many in the officer corps who recognize the threat Trump represents and wanted that threat gone long ago. Now those same people have reason to act upon their fears. Whether they are right to act or not is largely irrelevant to this point. The military is a very conservative organization, if Trump loses the military, many conservatives will follow.
We will never “see” the maneuvering that the military might do to weaken Trump. We will only see the effect. A certain CEO suddenly comes out against Trump, or certain evidence finds its way to a reporter. We will never know that the matter can be traced back to the admirals and generals attempting to take the nation out of Trump’s hands. But it will be no less real.
Last, I do not believe that the Joint Chiefs should all resign in protest. Though it would send a powerful signal, the last thing the top command should do right now is open up spots to be filled with new “Bill Barrs” at the top of the food chain, people chosen specifically for their loyalty to Trump, and not the country or constitution. This is a dangerous time, because if Trump wrestles control away from law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps, and all become loyal to Trump first, we then have lost the nation.
But unlike Trump, I do believe that the military is – on the whole – worthy of trust and respect, and I do not think that top command will allow that to happen. They did the right thing with respect to Gallagher, and I suspect they will do it with Trump.
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