On June 4, 2014, Donald Trump as usual was apoplectic. His fury that day was ignited by word that President Obama had authorized the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bowe Bergdahl, the Army Sgt. held captive in Afghanistan since 2009. So, Trump took to Twitter to ask, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?”
Ignoring the long history of prisoner exchanges which had been part of every American war since the Revolution and the difficult constitutional issues involved, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham certainly thought so. He warned that “there will be people on our side calling for his impeachment” if more Guantanamo detainees were released. Former Bush Attorney General and torture enthusiast Michael Mukasey agreed, proclaiming “The president can stay within his lawful powers and still commit an impeachable offense.”
But by that standard—or pretty much any other—Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump would be removed from office as soon as possible. With his conduct unbecoming a private, a general or any rank in between, Trump would be dishonorably discharged for his erratic and dangerous performance.
Consider the revelations of just the past few weeks. Trump deployed U.S. forces as political props along the Mexican border, defended the Saudi regime responsible for butchering a U.S. resident on the soil of a NATO ally, and slandered the decorated commander of the 2011 raid which killed Osama Bin Laden. The President has now publicly rebuked U.S. intelligence agencies for their conclusion in the Khashoggi assassination in addition to his rejections of their assessments of Russian election interference, Iranian compliance with the 2015 P5+1 nuclear accord and the North Korean ballistic missile program. Having unilaterally withdrawn from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement with Russia and repeatedly threatening to refuse to honor American mutual defense obligations to NATO, Trump mocked French President Emmanuel Macron for declaring Europe would have no choice but to create its own army. Meanwhile, our AWOL Commander-in-Chief—the same one who has never visited U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan--skipped both an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I and a Veteran’s Day remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery, only to deploy Kellyanne Conway to insult the intelligence of 330 million Americans:
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“No president has shown greater respect for the military and the veterans.”
Certainly not for the American servicemen and women Trump sent to the U.S. southern border to supposedly halt the “invasion” from the Central American refugee caravan now encamped in and around Tijuana, Mexico.
As Election Day neared, CinC Trump deployed 5,200 troops not so much to keep out asylum seekers but to get out his voters. But with the election over—and lost, Trump’s need for security theater faded into the rear-view mirror as well. As Politico reported last week:
The 5,800 troops who were rushed to the southwest border amid President Donald Trump’s pre-election warnings about a refugee caravan will start coming home as early as this week — just as some of those migrants are beginning to arrive.
That news didn’t just make a mockery of Trump’s boast that he would pour up to 15,000 troops into the effort to stop the asylum seekers. As Gordon Adams, Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Isaiah Wilson III warned in the New York Times, Commander-in-Chief Trump’s order was a “profound betrayal of our military”:
The president used America’s military not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election.
And that’s not even the worst thing America’s President did this week. That dishonor goes to Trump’s statement giving Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman a pass for butchering journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. (To borrow from and correct Mitt Romney’s slander of President Obama after the Benghazi tragedy in 2012, the Trump administration's first response was not to condemn the assassination, but to sympathize with those who ordered and carried it out.) In it, Trump slandered the victim while making clear that Trump’s America is only too happy to accept the Kingdom’s blood money:
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
Well, the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that MBS had more than knowledge of the event. As the New York Times reported on November 16:
The C.I.A. made the assessment based on the crown prince’s control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval, and has buttressed its conclusion with two sets of crucial communications: intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
The C.I.A. has believed for weeks that Prince Mohammed was culpable in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but had been hesitant to definitively conclude that he directly ordered it. The agency has passed that assessment on to lawmakers and Trump administration officials.
Of course, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo almost certainly knew from the beginning that Saudi denials of responsibility for Khashoggi’s death were untrue, but nevertheless misled the American people about it. Now, more than a month after Trump first declared, “I just spoke with the king of Saudi Arabia…and it sounded like he, and also the crown prince, had no knowledge,” the Commander-in-Chief of America’s armed forces brushed off his own intelligence service by once again proclaiming both King Salman and his son, Mohammed, “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”
Now, if this formula sounds familiar, it should. Trump, after all, has it used the same script to defend Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the 2016 election that made The Donald President of the United States.
As you will recall, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on January 6, 2017 released an unclassified version of its report on Russian hacking for President Obama. The DNI, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA) concluded with “high confidence” that Putin had ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. election. The intelligence community’s assessment found, and I quote:
We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment.
America’s intelligence agencies are in agreement, but their Commander-in-Chief is not. Afraid of alienating his benefactor in Moscow and acknowledging his tainted election, Donald Trump has steadfastly refused to hold Putin accountable. Even as his Defense Department has elevated “great power competition” with China and Russia to the top of America’s national security threats, President Trump has given a resurgent Russia a pass after its still-unchecked victory in 2016. Instead of the Face-Off in Finland, Trump’s joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki represented, the CBC lamented “the dawn of ‘America’s surrender.’”
"My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me," Trump said, as he proceeded to undermine his own director of national intelligence. "They said they think it's Russia."
Trump wasn't convinced, he said, citing Putin's "strong and powerful" denial.
"I have President Putin — he just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason it would be."
If President Obama had uttered these words, Republicans would have filled the streets demanding his impeachment for such naked appeasement of America’s second greatest strategic rival. I would have joined them. The same is true had Obama, and not Trump, spouted a national security inanity like this:
Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
Just minutes before, the 45th President celebrated his June summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un by proclaiming:
Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!
Back on Planet Earth, no American should be sleeping well. On November 15, the North Koreans reported that Kim “supervised a newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon test.” Just three days before that revelation, the New York Times detailed a larger one in an article titled, “In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception.”
North Korea is moving ahead with its ballistic missile program at 16 hidden bases that have been identified in new commercial satellite images, a network long known to American intelligence agencies but left undiscussed as President Trump claims to have neutralized the North’s nuclear threat.
The satellite images suggest that the North has been engaged in a great deception: It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads.
The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States.
Meanwhile, as the Times’ pointed out, “sanctions are collapsing, in part because North Korea has leveraged its new, softer-sounding relationship with Washington, and its stated commitment to eventual denuclearization, to resume trade with Russia and China.” None of these disturbing developments should concern the American people, Commander-in-Chief Trump reassured us, because with their exchange of letters he and Kim “fell in love.”
Clearly, Donald Trump is downplaying the very real threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea with whom the United States has no arms control agreements in place. The flip-side to that national security schizophrenia is Trump’s policy towards Iran. Currently a non-nuclear state, Tehran is in compliance with the agreement it signed with the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China in 2015. That’s why the overwhelming consensus of foreign policy analysts disapprove of Trump’s unilateral withdrawal in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But you’d never know it listening to President Trump or his national security team.
Take, for example, National Security Adviser John Bolton. In 2017, he told a Paris conference of the People’s Mujahedeen (MEK) that “the declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs' regime in Tehran.” In July, Secretary Pompeo seemed to have picked up the baton from Bolton, telling an audience of Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles:
"In light of these protests and 40 years of regime tyranny, I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you; the United States supports you; the United States is with you. And you should know that the United States is not afraid to spread our message on the airwaves and online inside of Iran either."
While Tehran has said it will continue to honor the terms of the JCPOA for the time being, the Trump administration is reinstating sanctions that will make it more difficult for Iranian and our European allies alike. As Trump bragged in August:
"When I came in here, it was a question of when would they take over the Middle East. Now it's a question of will they survive. It's a big difference in one and a half years."
As NBC News reported, America’s European allies aren’t so sure. Then again, they’re not so sure that Donald Trump’s America can be trusted at all.
It’s hard to blame them. After all, as both a candidate and as President of the United States, Trump has called into question the American commitment to the Article V mutual defense provision of NATO’s charter. In July, Trump asked, “What good is NATO” when “The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which kept the Soviet Union (and now Russia) at bay since 1949 based on mutual defense and the unshakable U.S. commitment to European freedom, is now threatened by the heretic in the White House. When Tucker Carlson asked him, “Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” Trump responded:
"I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. ... They are very strong people. They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War III."
That answer had to worry leaders in Montenegro and small front-line NATO member states like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. But leaders in Berlin, London and Paris weren’t happy, either. Trump isn’t just threatening to withdraw America’s once-ironclad security guarantee. Without consulting NATO allies, Trump announced the U.S. would pull-out of the 1986 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, a milestone agreement that halted a mushrooming (and controversial) nuclear arms race in Europe. While China’s modern arsenal and apparent Russian violations must be addressed to preserve INF, Europeans are once again concerned about their countries becoming nuclear battlefields. That backdrop prompted French President Emmanuel Macron’s call (later echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel) for a “true European army.”
“When I see President Trump announcing that he’s quitting a major disarmament treaty which was formed after the 1980s euro-missile crisis that hit Europe, who is the main victim? Europe and its security.”
Trump responded in typically Trumpian fashion. “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia,” Trump tweeted adding, “Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”
All of this comes at a time when Russia is occupying Crimea, continuing its incursion in Ukraine, concluding its largest war games since the early 1980’s, modernizing its nuclear weapons and building up its advantage in conventional forces along NATO’s eastern frontier. At the very moment when strengthening NATO’s capabilities and its resolve is absolutely essential, Commander-in-Chief Trump is trading insults with America’s closest allies.
And that’s when he’s not insulting America’s fighting heroes. Candidate Trump famously mocked John McCain and a Gold Star family. But when confronted with comments from Admiral Bill McRaven, the former head of Special Operations Command who called Trump’s attacks on the press “the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime,” the Commander-in-Chief blasted the leader of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011:
"OK, he’s a Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer," Trump added before Wallace said McRaven had been a Navy SEAL for nearly four decades.
Trump, pointing to the bin Laden raid, added, "Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that. Wouldn’t it have been nice?"
(If Trump wanted to blame the CIA for not tracking down Bin Laden sooner, or George W. Bush, who after Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in December 2001 famously said, “I just don't spend that much time on him,” he might have been on more solid ground. As it turned out, it was candidate Barack Obama who, to much criticism from Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney, promised to launch unilateral strikes inside Pakistan against Bin Laden and other high value Al Qaeda targets if Islamabad would not act. Promise made, promise kept.)
When Trump isn’t insulting America’s fighting men and women, lying to them about the military budget and their pay, stonewalling on GI benefits and health care, blowing off solemn memorial services, staying away from those stationed in harm’s way, and generally worrying the Pentagon about unlawful orders he might issue, the Commander-in-Chief is blaming someone else when anything goes wrong.
After the Bay of Pigs disaster in April 1961, President John F. Kennedy said of the operation he inherited but did not stop, “There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” But just days into his tenure, a defeat in Yemen had a thousand fathers, but none of them were named Donald Trump.
As you may recall, on January 29, 2017 a Special Forces raid in Yemen went badly wrong, resulting in the deaths of 20 Yemeni civilians and Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens. It was bad enough that Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer insisted the mission was a “success” and declared that “who would suggest it's not a success does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens.” As the supposed Commander-in-Chief told Fox and Friends:
“This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do,” he said. “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”
Apparently, “they” were also in command when four American soldiers were killed in a deadly ambush in Niger in October 2017. Among them, the New York Times detailed in February, was Sgt. La David T. Johnson.
Sergeant La David Johnson’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, said the president called her 12 days later and said her husband “knew what he signed up for,” even as Mr. Trump struggled to remember the slain soldier’s name. Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida, who listened to Mr. Trump’s conversation with Ms. Johnson, criticized the president publicly for his words.
Mr. Trump angrily disputed that account and sent his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, to denounce Ms. Wilson to White House reporters. Mr. Kelly did so, but further flamed the controversy by mischaracterizing unrelated remarks by Ms. Wilson in 2015.
Ultimately, a Pentagon investigation which concluded earlier this month led to “some of those who fought in the pitched firefight have been reprimanded, while senior officers who approved the mission have gone unpunished.” While that emptiest of “empty barrels” Donald Trump has been quiet on the topic of the U.S. mission in Niger, the Pentagon hasn’t been. In August, the leader of the U.S. Africa Command announced that troop deployments and missions—including training local military forces like the Nigeriens--would be reduced across Central and West Africa. In September, Americans learned those cutbacks would include the very commando forces involved in the ambush in Niger.
Last week, retired Marine Major Henry Black, whose son Staff Sgt. Bryan Black was killed in Niger, wrote a letter which appeared in the New York Times asking that the “General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand” (GOMOR) not be filed against his son’s commanding officer. Major Black offered a solemn and heartfelt defense of Captain Michael Perozeni. The “prospect of the Army losing a valuable asset” in Captain Perozeni, Black wrote, “both saddens and angers me.”
Knowing Captain Perozeni as I now know him, if I were in a position to serve, given the requirements of combat, I would gladly serve with him, serve under him and seek him out to serve as a member of my unit.
It is unlikely that anyone will offer similar words for Bowe Bergdahl. After all, Bergdahl in October 2017 pled guilty “to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and had faced a maximum life sentence.” But Bergdahl wasn’t sentenced to life in prison. Instead, the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, was given a dishonorable discharge from the Army and avoided jail time. A key reason for the apparent sentence was the fact that Bergdahl had already suffered during his five years in Taliban captivity. But knowing that candidate Donald Trump had called Bergdahl a "dirty, rotten traitor" who should be executed certainly didn’t help the prosecution. When now-President Trump declared in October 2017 that “I think people have heard my comments in the past,” Judge Nance had little choice but to consider whether such incendiary public statements constituted unlawful command influence by the Commander-in-Chief.
Which is just one in a long laundry list of reasons why Donald J. Trump should no longer hold that position. After all, according to Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” The Constitution also specifies that the President swear an oath “will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Commander-in-Chief Trump’s best has not been nearly good enough. Three hundred thirty million Americans, and the 1.4 million in uniform Trump calls “my military” and “my generals,” are only just beginning to see his worst.
NOTE: This article first appeared at Daily Kos.