|MAURICIO LIMA / AFP-GETTY IMAGES|
We certainly do not need yet another reminder about what an abominable commander in chief Donald Trump has been for our nation's men and women at arms. It is but a part of his inherent cruelty and incapacity to show compassion, let alone defer to anyone who might know better than him, in this case the all-important military chain of command. In fact, this beast who golfed his way through the Vietnam war because of a phoneyed -up deferment for bone spurs could care less about the armed forces unless he can turn them to his own selfish ends. So it is with the saga of Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a war criminal whom the president has embraced because the Navy SEAL has become a cause célèbre of conservative commentators.
What is different this time is that Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Rear Admiral Collin Green, who commands the SEALs, threatened to resign or be fired if their plans to expel Gallagher from the elite unit were blocked by Trump, who countermanded an order to demote Gallagher and pardoned two other men convicted of war crimes.
But in a typical twist in the cruel soap opera known as the Trump presidency, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a Trump flunkey who understands his major responsibility is coddling an impetuous boss and not protecting the military, something that his predecessor Jim Mattis would not do, demanded that Spencer resign after Trump ordered the Pentagon to lay off Gallagher.
That admission came on Monday after Esper had initially said the reason Spencer had to go was that his private statements about Gallagher's case differed from what he was advocating in public. Beyond lame, but what matters here is that Esper capitulated to Trump, who was outraged by Spencer's threat to quit, rather than defend his Navy secretary.
In a parting shot at Trump, Spencer wrote in his "resignation" letter that he regarded good order and discipline throughout the Navy's ranks to be "deadly serious business."
"The lives of our sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside," he added. "Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took."
Before we get too deep into this latest outrage, it must be emphasized that fighting in any war, especially contemporary wars where the rules of engagement can be maddenly and lethally unclear, is almost impossible for chairbound civilians to comprehend, but that is why there is a military justice system to weed out offenders and punish them.
It must also be emphasized that the horrors of war, including the nightmarish effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, can barely be understood by those who have not been there and done that. The only reasons I claim to have some understanding is that I have written about PTSD as a journalist and have had several friends who suffered badly from PTSD, including one who died just the other day and had never escaped the hallucinatory nightmare of operating behind enemy lines as an artillery forward observation officer at the height of the Vietnam war.
Trump, for whom the rule of law and codes of conduct are seen as a bothersome obstacles and not pillars of our democracy, had angered military leaders by intervening in the cases of Gallagher and two other service members accused of war crimes.
On November 15, over objections from the Pentagon, Trump reversed the demotion of Gallagher and pardoned the two other service members, overruling military leaders who sought to punish the three and siding with conservative commentators who portrayed them as war heroes unfairly prosecuted for actions taken in the heat of battle.
Gallagher was turned in by his own platoon last spring.
Several fellow SEALs reported that he had shot civilians and killed a captive teenage Islamic State fighter with a custom hunting knife during a deployment in Iraq in 2017. He was also charged with obstruction of justice for threatening to kill the SEALs who reported him.
At trial, Gallagher was acquitted of all charges, including murder, while being found guilty of bringing discredit to the armed forces by posing for photos with the teenage captive's dead body. He was demoted, and since then has trashed-talked his way through interviews on Fox News in which he blames everyone from his commanders to his fellow SEALs for his notoriety. But not himself.
Trump, playing to his base while poking the military justice system in the eye, was outraged. He tweeted that "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!"
Gallagher will now keep his Trident pin, the symbol of his membership in the SEALs, at Esper's direction because of "concerns" that the events of the past few days would make it impossible for him to get an impartial hearing, according to a Defense Department spokesman.
As if the case didn't already stink on ice, Trump almost certainly was further moved to exculpate Gallagher because his legal team includes two Trump friends who are former partners of presidential lawyer-fixer Giuliani: Bernard Kerik, a former (and disgraced) New York police commissioner, and Marc Mukasey, whose father, Michael, was an atrocious attorney general for George W, Bush and currently represents Trump as an outside counsel.
Trump, it should go without saying, has repeatedly dishonored the military.
He sent troops to the southern border to try to win votes before the 2018 midterms, then stole money earmarked for the military to build his damned wall. There is the humiliating retreat from northern Syria (since reversed), his callous treatment of the widow of Army Sergeant La David T. Johnson and, in the fallout from that incident, the claim that President Obama had never called former Marine General John Kelly, who by then was his chief of staff, after the battlefield death of his son, Lieutenant Robert Kelly in Afghanistan. That was true, but Kelly and his wife were invited to the White House by the Obamas where they offered their condolences.
Americans always have been able to put aside their differences and prejudices when it comes to mourning and honoring our sons and daughters at arms when they fall defending the freedoms Trump would take away. He has sought not to honor, but to exploit and disparage.
Beyond Gallagher, the biggest criminal here is Trump, who already has done so much to undermine the nation's moral compass. And yes, there remains a semblance of one, look no further than House impeachment proceedings. Insofar as the military and human rights, this should come as no surprise as Trump advocated the use of torture and mass executions during the 2016 campaign.
Maintaining discipline is paramount for the SEALs and other elite units. SEAL peer-review panels alone reportedly have removed more than 150 Trident pins since 2011.
Trump is supporting men who committed well-documented war crimes because of the perversely misguided view that to do otherwise would sap them of their confidence to fight. "We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!" he said in another government-by-tweet moment.
There was, of course, not a peep from Trump's Republican congressional sycophancy, some of whom actually served in the military, as opposed to a commander in chief who is a chickenhawk.
Trump's perverse logic, predicated on the view that he alone is morally superior, actually endangers soldiers because it emboldens enemies and further undermines the confidence of America's erstwhile allies.