But what are they going to do about it?

Yesterday I posted about my impatience with Republican congresspeople who seem quite willing to criticize Donald Trump’s words and actions in private while loudly praising him in public. Now come reports that top military personnel are also disturbed by his reckless interference into its workings and also saying so privately.

Tensions that have been mounting for months between some of the nation’s most senior military officers and President Donald Trump are boiling over after his decision to intervene in the cases of three service members accused of war crimes.

A long-serving military officer put it bluntly, telling CNN “there is a morale problem,” and senior Pentagon officials have privately said they are disturbed by the President’s behavior.

Dismay in the Pentagon has been building over Trump’s sporadic, impulsive and contradictory decision-making on a range of issues, including his sudden pullback of troops in Syria. But now there are new and significant worries, as multiple military officials and retired officers say Trump’s intervention into high-profile war crimes cases cannot be ignored.

Fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer wrote Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed that Trump’s intervention was “shocking and unprecedented. … It was also a reminder that the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”

Trump had upped the ante at a rally on Tuesday by issuing an extraordinary declaration that he took action in the face of “deep state” opposition. In fact, senior Pentagon officials had been unanimously opposed to the President’s intervention because they believed it would undermine military discipline and order.

Trump’s intervention in the war crimes cases has created “confusion, there’s chaos, and it makes it appear like, as if there’s really not accountability, that if people violate their oath or commit crimes, there’s a way out,” said retired Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a former senior military spokesman, discussing Trump’s intervention in the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher and two other service members.

Lapan is concerned some troops could now believe “they can escape accountability if they get the President in their corner.”

This degeneration is the almost inevitable outcome of continuous pandering to the US military, praising them to the skies, ignoring the war crimes and other atrocities committed by them, and attacking the courageous whistleblowers and reporters who exposed them. Trump is just taking it to the next level, refusing to allow even the most minor of reprimands for outrageous behavior.

Senior and junior officers were deeply angry after Trump tweeted Oct. 12, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!”

One young officer pushed back, suggesting — just as Spencer has — that the President fundamentally misunderstands the military, its culture and its ethos. “That is not who we are,” the officer told CNN.

Army officials are now holding their breath to see what happens with Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who was pardoned by the President on murder charges. Golsteyn has had his medals and his Special Forces tab returned, but a formal Army review could lead to them being stripped and create another standoff with the President.

On Wednesday, the Navy announced it will not carry out a review of three Navy SEALs connected to the Gallagher case.

This is disingenuous. Trump is correct is saying that ‘Soldiers are trained to be ‘killing machines'”. It is true that they are supposed to be aware of restraints but the fact is that when soldiers are let loose on a population that has been demonized as the enemy and possibly less than human, some of them will commit atrocities. This happens all over the world with every military occupation. Trying to impose some punishments of such actions is the minimal level of accountability but Trump has tossed even that to the winds.

When the military people say that “Trump’s intervention into high-profile war crimes cases cannot be ignored”, what exactly are they planning to do about it?

Of course, military people are much more restricted in what they can say publicly, unlike members of congress, and leaking stories of discontent may be their limit, short of resigning. But there is absolutely no excuse for members of Congress to not speak out.


  1. jrkrideau says

    From an internal USA point of view all of your points seem valid. From the point of view of anyone outside of the USA, Trump’s pardons simply confirm what has been obvious for many years, Americans will not be held responsible for killing or torturing anyone who is not American.

    The American military seems to have made some gesture about actual justice and the US Administration has said, ” To hell with this”. This basically reinforces my impression that the USA does not consider anyone outside of the USA as real humans. Come to think of it, given the USA’s treatment of Puerto Rico after the last hurricane, they may not consider anyone outside of the Continental USA is humans.

  2. says

    Americans will not be held responsible for killing or torturing anyone who is not American.

    Actually, Americans will not be held responsible for killing or torturing other Americans, either. Unless they’re rich and white and even then it’s iffy.

  3. Ravi Venkataraman says

    I agree with the previous comments that the US cares two hoots for human rights and war crimes by its military or intelligence personnel. When Manning released information showing helicopter pilots shooting down people in cold blood in Iraq, it was Manning who was charged for releasing official secrets, whereas the killers were never even investigated. From My Lai to today, the US military feels that it can act with impunity, with only those who dare to bring the violations to light s being charged or their careers ruined. To the rest of the world, the concern shown by the U|S military seems hypocritical.

  4. Mobius says

    The military is rather constrained in criticizing the President. The Uniform Code of Military Justice says:

    Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

    As an NCO, I could say what I wanted about Reagan, but an officer could not, publicly, say anything bad about him. What the Pentagon is saying is pushing about as far as the UCMJ allows.

  5. Mano Singham says


    Thanks for your post. I was not aware that NCOs had more freedom to speak than commissioned officers. I thought that the prohibitions want all the way down the ladder to the lowliest recruit.

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