American Opinion: Trump undercuts his military leadership and dishonors troops who uphold our values
American Opinion: Perhaps Trump has watched too many bad war movies, but if he were to consult with his military leaders or talk to the many fine men and women in uniform, they would tell him they are trained to engage in combat while following the laws of war and upholding the country's ideals.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!" With that contemptuous tweet on Thursday, President Donald Trump extended his subversion of the justice and discipline that are so foundational to the nation's armed forces. His interventions in this case and that of two other service members undercut military leadership and dishonor the men and women who serve their country while upholding — not abandoning — its values.
Against the advice of top Pentagon officials, Trump this month pardoned Navy Seal Chief Petty Officer Gallagher, convicted by a military court of posing for a trophy photo with a corpse of a fighter in Iraq; Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, convicted in 2013 of two counts of second-degree murder after ordering his soldiers to fire into a group of unarmed Afghans; and Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, awaiting trial on charges that he killed an Afghan man. It was the first time a president had pardoned a service member for war crimes, and it prompted fierce backlash from veterans and legal experts who said it will erode the system of military justice and hurt U.S. credibility abroad.
Trump's response was to add fuel to the fire, issuing Thursday's tweet challenging plans by Navy commanders to strip Gallagher of his Trident pin, a badge of honor, and expel him from the SEALs. This elite force has been shaken by a series of scandals in recent years, prompting Navy officials to take a tougher stance on ethical issues. Restoring to service someone who was turned in by members of his unit who wouldn't tolerate his behavior sends precisely the wrong message. The damage was compounding on Sunday with news that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was being forced out. The commander in chief's corrupting influence is ever widening.
Trump has taken his cues, as The Washington Post's Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey detailed, not from information provided by Defense Secretary Mark Esper or other senior officials, but rather from Fox News and other right-wing media. The legal team for Chief Gallagher, according to The Post's David Ignatius, included two friends of the president who are also former partners of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The message: Why worry about chain of command, discipline and obedience when what matters is having the right connections?
Most offensive is what Trump's actions say about his view of the military. "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!," he tweeted in October when he announced he would review these cases. Perhaps Trump has watched too many bad war movies, but if he were to consult with his military leaders or talk to the many fine men and women in uniform, they would tell him they are trained to engage in combat while following the laws of war and upholding the country's ideals.
This editorial is the opinion of The Washington Post's editorial board.