Best Defense

Will the generals obey Trump?

No, if he orders nuclear war. Yes, if he asks them to fiddle at the margins.


No, if he orders nuclear war.

Yes, if he asks them to fiddle at the margins.

What do I mean by this? I think we already saw something along these lines with Donald Rumsfeld. There was a period after 9/11 when the White House was pushing torture and such. Pentagon civilians picked up the cry. But military lawyers said no, that’s an illegal order. The White House people responded: No worries, we’ll exempt soldiers from that. The military lawyers said you cannot order someone to carry out an illegal order. I think one of Jane Mayer’s articles in the New Yorker had a lot of detail on these exchanges.

So I think you’ll see that when President-elect Donald Trump wants to say, Do something shady in the Middle East, the Pentagon will say, Go talk to CIA. CIA officials in turn will say they need help from the uniformed military to carry out that mission. So military units, almost always from special operations units, will be seconded. That’s the murky area.

Plus, there’s a new factor in the mix: A Republican Congress may not simply follow the lead of a Republican president. For example, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, yesterday utterly and thoroughly rejected Trump’s comradely embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among other things, he described Putin as “a former KGB agent who has plunged his country into tyranny, murdered his political opponents, invaded his neighbors, threatened America’s allies, and attempted to undermine America’s elections.”

It is going to be interesting for generals who get called before the Senate Armed Services Committee and asked for their candid personal opinions, and then get chewed on by the Trump White House for doing so. Kind of like a mega-version of some Obama White House moves.

Meantime, here is an interesting op-ed by an aging conservative who initially counselled young conservatives to work in the Trump Administration, but then after a nasty encounter with a Trumpist changed his mind.

Photo credit: U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration/Nevada Site Office/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at @tomricks1
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