One of the frightening things about Donald Trump is his tendency to shoot from the hip. He makes decisions, important policy decisions based on unfounded assumptions. One policy matter with which I am familiar is the military. Some months ago, he said a couple of times that he would insist that the military engage in torture, or, at least the sort of torture advocated by the Bush Administration. Water-boarding is a low level torture, but it is still torture.
The things is, as I learned in Infantry Basic Officers Course in the 1980’s, is that we as military officers and non-commissioend officers are required to disobey unlawful orders. This requirement was incorporated in the Uniform Code of Military Justice in response to the military abuses of the Viet Nam War.
So, what is an unlawful order? Well, an order to engage in water-boarding would come quite close. It would come close enough that many military members will be placed between a rock and hard place in a Trump Administration.
Now, I read that Donald Trump has also decided that he would forbid generals and admirals from appearing on television. He does not want them to discuss military matters in public. According to the May 30, 2016 edition of the Army Times, he wants to bar open discussion of military strategy or operations by top generals. The Times says he bases these decisions on the false assumption that generals and admirals have been overly critical of military capabilities and have openly disclosed military strategy.
That is silly. Generals and all top officers are trained to be discrete. We are required to discuss military strategies while still safeguarding classified information. Duh. That job requirement is well known to any officer or NCO.
More importantly, in a democracy, we must discuss strategic issues to some degree. In early 2003, Gen. Shinseki testified before Congress. He famously estimated it would require several hundred thousand soldiers to pacify Iraq after a war. That estimate was more than double the estimate of the civilian war planners for the Iraq war. See CNN news report. Now, we know how right he was.
Yet, Donald Trump would forbid such public disclosures. His policies are anathema to a democracy. I remember a year or two after my time In Iraq, I met a Lieutenant-Colonel in a Reserve training battalion. During his time in the war, he served as a senior officer in charge of training the Iraqi army. He told me, almost as an aside, that he had lied to the media about the capabilities of the Iraqi soldiers. Instead, he painted a rosy picture of the progress of the training. This was a time when Pres. Bush was telling the public that the U.S. soldiers would leave Iraq when the Iraqi soldiers could take over. As they stand up, Pres. Bush assured us, the U.S. would stand down.
That Lieutenant-Colonel should not have lied. In effect, he was lying to every American voter. People voted based on perceptions. Policy makers set policy based on perceptions. And, now, look where we are. The Iraqi Army does not function. The current advance on Fallujah is being carried out by Shiite militias controlled by Iranians. Two years ago, the Iraqi army panicked and fled when a handful of ISIS soldiers advanced on Mosul.
In a democracy, it is imperative that military experts discuss military matters publicly. Mr. Trump’s assumption is not correct. There has been little, if any public disclosure of military secrets by actively serving leaders. But, more importantly, when military “secrets” come to include broad strategy, then civilian control of the military becomes non-existent.
It frightens me that he would issue broad proscriptions based on poor understanding. He once said that he employs no advisers on international policy. He has a “good brain,” he assured his listeners. Okay, but that brain is poorly educated on some very important matters.