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Old 11-17-2020, 06:36 AM
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Arrow Trump’s New Toy: the Pentagon

Trump’s New Toy: the Pentagon
By: Johnathan Stevenson - Prospect News Org. - 11-17-20

From the standpoint of government functionality, President Trump’s lame-duck seeding of the Department of Defense with inexpert loyalists—most of whom do not require Senate confirmation—seems conspicuously pointless and needlessly deleterious. Worries about national and international security and domestic political stability are understandable. But more dire reasons for alarm are readily dismissed, as cogently argued in The Atlantic by Kori Schake, who quite sensibly tallied it up to pure spite.

A predictable and hardly baseless suspicion is that Trump is planning some form of dramatic overseas military action—for instance, an attack on Iranian uranium reprocessing facilities—with an eye to vindicating his “maximum pressure” policy and to reducing President-elect Biden’s latitude for reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which he already did to some extent by ordering the assassination of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January.

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But even if Trump liked the idea of saddling Biden with a major military conflict—George H.W. Bush, though well-intended, did it to Bill Clinton when he intervened in Somalia in December 1992 as a lame duck—he probably doesn’t have the time to prepare the diplomatic and operational ground for a proper one. Moreover, the people that he has installed are eager but callow minions whose most attractive feature to Trump could only be their sycophancy. They do not possess the bureaucratic expertise or experience required to orchestrate the planning and execution of military operations, or to command the respect and responsiveness of the career civil servants and uniformed personnel who do.

Another notion is that Trump wants to clear obstacles to a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan to cement his insular “America First” legacy and—a prime ad hominem motivator for him—do what Barack Obama could not. But even withdrawals—especially one from an insecure landlocked country, involving allies to whom the United States has operational commitments—entail daunting logistical and diplomatic challenges that the Pentagon and the State Department probably could not surmount in two months’ time.

Fortunately, the American coup scenario does not add up.

A more dire prospect, sadly plausible given Trump’s proven disregard for the democratic process, is that he is entertaining the possibility of seizing control of the government coercively on January 20 and refusing to relinquish the White House to Biden. The flagrantly underhanded appointment of Anthony J. Tata—a retired Army brigadier general spurned for the undersecretary of defense for policy post on a bipartisan basis owing to his vocally far-right views—as “an official performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy” could be construed as supporting this inference. So could the elevation of Kashyap Patel, who has held several NSC posts under Trump and was negatively implicated in the impeachment proceedings, to Pentagon chief of staff.

Fortunately, the American coup scenario does not add up, either. Granted, Trump no doubt fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper—replacing him with Christopher Miller, a grossly unqualified toady, as acting secretary—in part due to Esper’s vow not to invoke the Insurrection Act to authorize the use of the military for domestic political purposes. This stance arose in the wake of the notorious photo op last June, for which Trump co-opted Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, into walking alongside him from the White House to a church on Lafayette Square as security forces intimidated civil rights protesters. But that very incident hardened the military against any further action in the domestic political arena.

A contrite Gen. Milley characterized his participation as “a mistake” and in July assured the House Armed Services Committee that the military would not get involved in domestic politics. (Trump’s abruptly replacing Milley would be cause for genuine alarm.) Furthermore, political-military éminences grises like James Mattis and Mike Mullen forcefully and disdainfully condemned it. Their opposition appeared to consolidate the evolving view that military officers could and should refuse to carry out civilian orders they considered unconstitutional. And the general decline of military personnel’s approval of Trump’s leadership suggests that commanders would encounter little rank-and-file resistance to refusing to execute jarringly unconstitutional domestic tasks.

In a perverse way, Trump’s resort to law-enforcement personnel subsumed by the Department of Homeland Security to respond to protesters reflected his recognition that the military disapproved of his leadership and had rejected his domestic employment of the active-duty troops.

It’s dicey to ascribe a rational strategy to a palpably irrational person.

So is Trump up to anything more than merely indulging spite? It’s dicey to ascribe a rational strategy to a palpably irrational person, but if he has one it may be to manipulate defense intelligence so as to exculpate himself of various possible transgressions, including collusion with Russia during his campaign, or inaction in the face of credible information that Russian intelligence had placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Trump appointees could attempt to do this via both concealment and disclosure. They might seek to scrub the Pentagon’s records of any evidence of Trump’s malfeasance. They could also release intelligence manipulated through selection and redaction that purportedly exonerates Trump of missteps. The potential dismissal of CIA Director Gina Haspel—who, like NSA Director Paul Nakasone, strongly opposes declassifications of this nature because they could compromise liaison relationships with allies—reinforces this view.

Also lending it some weight is the fact that two particularly egregious appointees—Ezra Cohen-Watnick as acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and Michael Ellis as general counsel of the National Security Agency, a Defense Department organization—would enjoy direct access to and oversight of Pentagon intelligence. Like Patel, both officials are acolytes of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), one of Trump’s most ardent congressional supporters, and served on the NSC staff during his administration. In 2018, then–National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster forced out Cohen-Watnick.

Of course, since the implied premise of an effort motivated by self-protection is Trump’s understanding that he lost the election and will have to leave, it is arguably something of a relief. But scorching the earth and poisoning the well are still potential hazards.

Ellis was named to a permanent civil service post from which it would be difficult for the Biden administration to fire him. He could conceivably be part of a clumsy effort by Trump to counter the “deep state” that he is convinced he faced upon taking office in 2017 with one of his own, thus impairing the Biden administration’s ability to govern.

While any such effort would be fruitless, the general objective of hamstringing Biden seems increasingly evident, as Trump refuses to provide him with the standard intelligence briefings for an incoming president, drains the Department of Homeland Security of senior talent, and possibly roils the CIA. Beyond that, Trump’s glaringly passive-aggressive approach to the COVID-19 pandemic suggests, without exaggeration, that he would just as soon Biden inherit a spike in the death rate in order to make the new president look as bad as the old one.

In Trump’s warped mind, making the country harder to run and letting Americans die is not spiteful but patriotic. Insofar as Biden cannot govern effectively, he or another Democratic nominee will be less electable. If the 2024 Democratic presidential nominee is less electable, Trump will more easily regain the presidency in 2024. It’ll be beautiful all over again.

About this writer: Jonathan Stevenson is Senior Fellow for U.S. Defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and managing editor of Survival.


Personal note: Trumps self glorification is getting pretty old. His departure will be a relief too many in hopes that we can put our system back to a solid working order. Biden will have his hands full with the carniage Trump left behind. We need to repair the broken elements and put back on track.

Between the Virus and China stirring the pot and North Korea just waiting for things to pop - we need to get back to some world wide normality and put our system and people back to work. Of course this ungoing virus is primary - and then getting our folks back to work - but we've got to keep our eye on China and NK - they are just itching to stir the pot! NATO is also a necessity - as we can't go it along - without our supporters - if we have any?

I suspect it will take 6 to 12 months before things may mellow out somewhat. I know our neighborhood is heavily unemployed and crime is rising because it. Normality is a priority
otherwise crime will increase and we don't need anymore internal issues at this time - anymore than they already are.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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