November 25, 2019

Clemency for Three Military Officers

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

On November 15, “President Donald Trump… granted clemency to three controversial military figures embroiled in charges of war crimes, arguing the moves will give troops ‘the confidence to fight’ without worrying about potential legal overreach.” Military Times

“Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday fired the Navy’s top official… Esper said he had lost confidence in Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and alleged that Spencer proposed a deal with the White House behind his back to resolve [Eddie Gallagher’s] case.” AP News

Both sides criticize the pardons and argue that they will undermine military discipline:

“War crimes are not difficult to discern… The actions these men were accused of most definitely qualify as war crimes. Killing three guys on a motorcycle when they are far away and carrying nothing more deadly than a cucumber—that’s a war crime. Killing old men and little girls with a sniper rifle is a war crime. Killing a prisoner with a hunting knife is a war crime. Waiting for an unarmed man to walk past you, then shooting him, is a war crime… ‘You have to play the game the way [ISIS is] playing the game,’ Trump told John Dickerson in 2016, while still a candidate. Now, as president, he is implementing that policy, and telling members of a once-proud fighting force that they should be savages and sneaks.”
Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

“The president has the power to do this, but Trump has misused that power to give war criminals a free pass. Interfering in the process before one of these cases went to trial was wrong, and overruling the punishment meted out in the other two was even worse. Trump’s action undermines military discipline. It sends a horrible message that U.S. forces will be allowed to get away with anything. Finally, it insults the hundreds of thousands of other people that have served honorably in the military… by doing this he is showing blatant disrespect for the military’s own practices and system of justice.”
Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

Trump’s “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… [The SEAL team] 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 V. Spencer was being forced out. The commander in chief’s corrupting influence is ever widening.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Through these pardons, and his earlier unprecedented interventions as these cases were making their way through the justice system, the president has undermined principles that long have served as a bedrock for our armed forces

“It is often difficult to embrace rules that our adversaries do not respect… [but] what sets us apart from such enemies are our values, our fundamental beliefs, our adherence to rule of law. By undercutting a military justice system that enforces those guiding principles, the president has not strengthened our armed forces. By sanctioning illegal behavior, he endangers the safety of our troops, giving our adversaries a green light to similarly mistreat men and women who serve honorably in our military.”
Benjamin Freakley and Clint Williamson, The Hill

“The president may feel like he’s righting a wrong, but he’s damaging the nation’s moral compass… A nation has to know that military action being taken in its name follows morally defensible rules — that soldiers do not, for instance, kill unarmed civilians or prisoners. To excuse men who have so flagrantly violated those rules — to treat them as heroes, even — is to cast the idea of just war to the winds… The president has the undisputed power to pardon. Indeed, he should use it more often in cases where guilt or a fair trial are in genuine doubt. But that power cannot be exercised without a cost, in this case injury to the morality of a nation that once held its own to account.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“The President is responsible for general policy and big impactful decisions when it comes to fighting wars. But traditionally, we don’t see presidents micromanaging military personnel decisions at this level. It’s bad for morale and can prove disruptive to the chain of command… The SEALs are the best judge of who should or shouldn’t be counted in their ranks. We should leave them to conduct their business in accordance with the rules.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

The left believes Sanders’s chances have improved, but notes that obstacles still remain.

“The United States has accrued numerous advantages by being better, more principled, and more trustworthy than its enemies. Among those advantages are allies willing to have American bases on their territory and to participate in the wars we fight. Being a principled and disciplined military that operates with clear ethical norms also serves the crucial purpose of helping veterans to reintegrate into civilian society and make their individual peace with the violence they have committed on America’s behalf… Whatever political value these pardons serve for the president, they are bad for the American military and bad for its relationship with broader civilian society.”
Kori Schake, The Atlantic

“The slaughter of the 1940s, in which civilians bore the brunt of much military force, notably through aerial bombings, led nations to recommit themselves to vigorous enforcement of rules on the conduct of war — rules that drew sharp distinctions between combatants and noncombatants, protecting the latter. The goal was to avoid total war at all costs and to ensure that professional soldiers bore the brunt of war’s horror. Trump apparently rejects the combatant-noncombatant distinction as a pointless quibble. Yet such a stance could have dangerous implications, including for both U.S. soldiers and American civilians

"If the chivalric code breaks down and legal restrictions evaporate, there will be no grounds for objection when U.S. service members and civilians fall victim to unrestrained killing and brutality. In total war, civilians on both sides always lose.”
Jens David Ohlin, Washington Post

“Republicans have successfully maneuvered around the evidence that already exists for removing Donald Trump from office. Their ability to do so probably wouldn’t change even if damning new information came out, but it’s nevertheless in their interest to keep anything new from coming out. That’s why 13 hours were spent on Tuesday rejecting Democratic amendments to subpoena new witnesses and documents at the outset of the trial… The strategy was to block Democrats from obtaining new material, and then to mock their presentation for failing to present any new material. In judging it that way, they elide the crucial question: Whether Donald Trump had admirably discharged his duties as president in the Ukraine affair.”
Jim Newell, Slate

At last night’s debate, Warren “called attention to a recent fundraiser Buttigieg held at a California wine cave. ‘The mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900-a-bottle wine,’ the Massachusetts senator said…

Buttigieg responded with a slippery claim that he was the only one on stage who wasn’t a millionaire or billionaire. But that’s true only because of his youth. He’s likely to be quite wealthy when he’s the age of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. In fact, as the child of two university professors, Buttigieg grew up wealthier than almost anyone on the stage. Further, pointing to his relative wealth did nothing to address the issue that his fundraising is coming from wealthy donors… If the goal of the other candidates was to sabotage Buttigieg’s campaign, they might have succeeded.”
Jeet Heer, The Nation

“Yes, the Constitution states that public officials may only be impeached for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ but that phrase had an expansive meaning when it was written into the Constitution… The impeachment power, Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers, extends to ‘those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.’... As a member of Congress, James Madison argued that a president could be impeached for ‘wanton removal of meritorious officers.’… Trump’s claim that he was improperly impeached is simply wrong.”
Ian Millhiser, Vox

“By declaring that the United States will respond with airstrikes to any attacks on American targets or assets, Mr. Trump is drawing a bright red line that Iran cannot cross. And yet, Iran relies on a network of proxy actors from Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Must they all respect Mr. Trump’s red line? There are plenty of hotheads in those proxy forces that will be incensed by the assassination, the same way young men with weapons and minimal discipline often are… Mr. Trump can’t keep an entire region from crossing his red line, making violent conflict all the more likely if the president holds to it…

“It is crucial that influential Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Mitch McConnell remind Mr. Trump of his promise to keep America out of foreign quagmires and keep Mr. Trump from stumbling further into war with Iran.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right applauds Trump’s speech and argues that his Iran strategy has been successful.

From the Right

Representatives Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) write, “The blind confidence in the military justice system by some at the Pentagon is grossly misplaced. We have seen firsthand the politicized nature of the military judicial process and have discovered more instances of prosecutorial misconduct than we can mention. Moreover, our broken Uniform Code of Military Justice denies our service members basic rights and weights the scales of justice against the accused

“In the Lorance case, the prosecution claimed Afghans killed during a combat patrol in their country were simply civilians. However, prosecutors failed to disclose or produce fingerprint and DNA evidence proving that at least two of the three ‘victims’ were Taliban bombmakers… In the Gallagher case, prosecutors purposely installed spyware on the defense team’s computers. If that wasn’t enough, the prosecution’s own witness admitted to the crime Gallagher was accused of committing…

“In the Golsteyn case, Army prosecutors pursued charges years after an investigation cleared Golsteyn of wrongdoing. When their case began to fall apart, they changed their theory weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin by enlisting possible members of the Taliban in Afghanistan as their key witnesses… When the circumstances are viewed holistically, [these men] did what our country asked of them. The three deserve our gratitude and thanks. Instead, they find themselves at the mercy of a broken military justice system for simply doing their jobs.”
Duncan Hunter and Louie Gohmert, Fox News

“Journalists are offering sophisticated-sounding arguments for why political speech should be controlled by tech companies. One popular argument is that Facebook’s algorithm rewards appeals to emotion so legitimate debate can’t take place. Yet political advocacy in the U.S. has always included emotional appeals… Politicians have been lying about one another for hundreds of years, and dragging Facebook into the election circus will damage the company’s credibility in the eyes of millions and undermine faith in the electoral process… Others resent the way the platform has upended news delivery in a way that takes power from the press… It’s an unfortunate conceit of some in the media that they ought to have a monopoly on free expression to the exclusion of ordinary people and their elected representatives.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Some argue that “with war on the horizon, we must demand a clear objective for staying, fighting, spending taxpayer dollars and most certainly sending some of our young men and women to their deaths… Iran’s strength is its use of insurgent and terror tactics. America’s strength is our ability to project power. We are fools if we stay in striking distance of Iran, playing to its strengths. U.S. forces are fully capable of striking from afar and crippling Iraq and Iran economically if that become necessary until Iraq decides it wants to join the rest of the world and detach itself from Iran’s axis of ruin. If we keep our roughly 5,000 troops in Iraq – or add more troops – we are likely to be drawn into a war with Iran that will be impossible to withdraw from.”
Joe Kent, Fox News

“Did Bill Taylor deliver the smoking-gun testimony House Democrats need to justify their drive for impeachment? Or did GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe ‘destroy’ the former Ukraine charges d’affaires in two minutes flat, as Nunes claimed last night?… The only way to really know what happened is to see the transcripts, and the serial leaks out of the SCIF make Schiff’s security arguments a bad joke… No one should trust any of these reports until we see the transcripts. In fact, no one should put any confidence in this process until it gets conducted openly, honestly, and fairly. House Republicans might have been conducting a stunt this morning, but the purpose of that stunt is spot-on. The House Democrats’ star-chamber approach is an affront to justice and due process, and their conduct in using selective leaks to goose public opinion from these proceedings is nothing short of despicable.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

It’s worth noting that “conservative ideas were much more popular when not associated with the Republican party. In Washington State, voters narrowly rejected bringing affirmative action back to state contracting and university admissions…

“In Seattle, the self-proclaimed socialist city-council member appears to have lost her seat to a pro-business challenger. In Colorado, voters gave fiscal conservatives a big win by rejecting letting the state keep any tax revenues above the state spending cap, money that the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights currently guarantees as refunds to taxpayers. In Sussex County, N.J., voters approved, by a 2-to-1 margin, a referendum directing the local freeholder board to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Washington, Colorado, New Jersey — notice these are places where Republican candidates have had no luck lately.)”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“While running for president in 2000, George W. Bush derided ‘nation building’ and said American foreign policy should be ‘humble’ rather than ‘arrogant.’ As president, Bush brought us the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama rejected the idea that the president has the authority to wage war without congressional authorization whenever he thinks it is in the national interest… As president, Obama did that very thing in Libya… A few years before his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump said the U.S. should withdraw immediately from Afghanistan… As president, he sent more troops to Afghanistan…

“Three men with little or no foreign policy experience entered an office where they were surrounded by experts, and they quickly shed their initial skepticism of military intervention… we should worry about a president with little knowledge of the world whose military decisions are driven by anger or domestic political considerations. But it's not clear to me that such a president poses a bigger danger than the experts who have been disastrously wrong more times than we can count.”
Jacob Sullum, Reason

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