After tapping four generals for top Cabinet positions early in his presidency, President Trump seems to have decided that U.S. military leaders are part of "the deep state," as he explained at a recent rally in Florida.
While Trump "boasts of supporting the military, he has come to distrust the generals and admirals who run it," taking cues instead from Fox News host Pete Hegseth, The New York Times reports. "As a result, the president finds himself more removed than ever from a disenchanted military command, adding the armed forces to the institutions under his authority that he has feuded with, along with the intelligence community, law enforcement agencies, and diplomatic corps."
The Times focused on Trump's extraordinary intervention in the case of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a SEAL accused of war crimes and convicted of posing for a "trophy photo" with the corpse of an incapacitated teenage terrorism suspect he killed with a knife in the neck in Iraq, according to several members of his SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon. When the military court demoted Gallagher, Trump ordered his rank restored, and when the SEAL commander, Rear Adm. Collin Green, decided to boot Gallagher from the SEALs, Trump ordered him not to and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was ousted in the process.
Trump's "handling of the case has distressed active-duty and retired officers and the civilians who work closely with them," because they believe it "emboldens war criminals and erodes the order of a professional military," the Times reports. But some rank-and-file service members are also concerned — it was six fellow SEALs who turned Gallagher in for alleged war crimes, after all.
"It's blown up bigger than any of us could have ever expected, and turned into a national clown show that put a bad light on the teams," Chris Shumake, a former sniper who served in Gallagher's platoon, told the Times, in his first public comments on the case. Trump is "trying to show he has the troops' backs, but he's saying he doesn't trust any of the troops or their leaders to make the right decisions." Peter Weber
They may not quit, but they don't seem particularly happy, either.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said Saturday he has no intentions of resigning. Instead, he said if President Trump orders the Navy to halt its process of deciding whether four Navy SEALs — including Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder charges but demoted for posing for a picture with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter — are fit to continue serving in the force, the Navy will comply. "I work at the pleasure of the president," Spencer said. "I do not interpret what the president does. I do what he says."
Spencer did, however, add that he does not consider a tweet to be an order, so Trump assuring that the Navy won't expel Gallagher on Thursday over the social media platform doesn't count; the process will only stop in light of an official directive and will continue as planned for now. Earlier reports indicated Spencer and Rear Adm. Collin Green were ready to resign if Trump intervened in the process, but Spencer has denied the rumor and said he doesn't believe Green has any intention of stepping down either. Just in case, though, NBC reports that military leaders have lobbied the president not to an issue the order so the Navy doesn't lose Spencer or Green.
Trump has drawn the ire of some top military and Defense Department officials lately for his determination to clear the names of several service members accused of war crimes. The military believes they should go through the proper channels of the military judicial system, rather than receive presidential pardons. Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell