Published with permission from Alternet
The CIA’s one-time acting director joins a growing list of former intelligence and military officials alarmed by The Donald’s ignorant, nuke-happy, saber-rattling rhetoric.
Starting next week, Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump, the two major-party candidates for the presidency of the United States, will begin receiving national security briefings from intelligence officials.
One senior intelligence official, speaking to the Washington Post on August 3 on the condition of anonymity, contended that “he would decline to participate in any session with Trump…citing not only concern with Trump’s expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin but seeming uninterest in acquiring a deeper or more nuanced understanding of world events.”
The unnamed official’s defiance came during a week in which Trump expressed acceptance of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and was reported to have repeatedly asked a foreign policy adviser why the U.S. couldn’t just use nuclear weapons at will—and a week following his quip to reporters that he hoped Russia would hack into Clinton’s personal email server to unveil the 30,000 emails she said were deleted because they were personal in nature, and not part of her conduct of government business during her tenure as secretary of state.
And those were just Trump’s latest unconventional utterances on matters of national security. He has, during the course of the presidential campaign, called for practices that defy international law, including (but not limited to) the execution of the family members of ISIS fighters, waterboarding and other forms of torture, and the bombing of areas held by ISIS despite the fact these arelocations largely populated by civilians (7:54). And despite his nuke-happy stance, at a Republican primary debate in December, Trump displayed ignorance of the military’s “nuclear triad” set-up, which refers to the three delivery systems through which nukes can be launched: by intercontinental missile, by bomber aircraft or by submarine.
Then there’s his backtracking on how he’d defeat ISIS. In March, Trump called for a commitment of between 20,000-30,000 U.S. troops to take on the terrorist insurgency; in an interview with the Washington Post editorial board two weeks later, he denied having done so.
As Trump’s foreign policy faux pas continue to pile up, former officials and military leaders are stepping into the light to express their concerns about the temperament and actions of Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, whom they contend to be unfit for the role of commander-in-chief. Here, we examine some recent statements by those who dare to be named.
1. Michael J. Morell, former acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Morell is alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric—and not just by what it portends for the fate of America in the world should his bid for the presidency succeed, but also for the damage he says it is doing right now.
“The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president,” Morell wrote in an essay on Friday’s New York Times op-ed page. “[They are] already damaging our national security.”
In his assessment of Trump as a world leader, Morell asserts that Trump has already been played by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, himself a product of the former Soviet Union’s infamous spy agency, the KGB. In fact, he says, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Morell explains:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. [Trump] responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.
It’s not just Trump’s backtracking on whether it’s O.K. for Russia to annex Crimea (Trump was against it before he was for it, as he is now), or his invitation to Russia to hack into the email server his Democratic opponent used when she was secretary of state, or a report that the GOP standard-bearer is eager to push the nuclear button that has Morell worried; it’s the very list of traits that form Trump’s personality. Morell writes:
These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.
Having worked for both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Morell knows the pressures faced by commanders-in-chief. He says that he is neither Republican nor Democrat, and has voted for politicians of both parties. This time around, he writes, there’s no doubt that he will vote for the Democrats’ presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, citing her attention to detail and the views of others; he also says she leaves consideration of domestic politics outside the Situation Room door. (When others hesitated to launch the raid on the bin Laden compound on the eve of the annual White House Correspondents dinner, he writes that Clinton said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”)
Morell’s op-ed, with its character insights into world leaders, is the most powerful expression yet of the unease and alarm being felt by many in the national security establishment by Trump’s antics and obvious lack of foreign policy knowledge. With its publication, Morell joins a growing list of intelligence figures and former military leaders who are uncharacteristically speaking of what they see as the dangers to the nation posed by both Trump the candidate, and a potential Trump presidency.
2. Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA director, former U.S. Air Force general
In a July 27 interview with Eli Lake of Bloomberg News, Hayden took aim at Trump’s invitation to Russia to hack Clinton’s email server, saying:
If [Trump] is talking about the State Department e-mails on her server, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to steal sensitive American government information,” Hayden said. “If he is talking about the allegedly private e-mails that she destroyed, he is inviting a foreign intelligence service to violate the privacy of an individual protected by the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution.
Perhaps he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Just a theory.
3. John Allen, retired U.S. Marines general, veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan wars
Days after he spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, Allen sat down with George Stephanopoulos for an interview on the ABC News program, “This Week.” Acknowledging concerns expressed by some over the involvement of a former general in partisan politics, Allen said he was moved to make his DNC speech because of the comments made by Trump advocating torture and the killing of the families of terrorists. “That was the reason I came off the bench,” he told Stephanopoulos. “I don’t intend to stay out there to be politically active.”
Should Trump win the presidency, Allen said, the Republican candidate’s call for the violation of international law by members of the military “put us on a potential track for a civil-military crisis the like of which we have never seen in this country.” He continued:
You know, from the moment that those of us who are commissioned—and of course all of our enlisted troops as well—assume the mantle of our responsibility in uniform, when we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which is a document and a set of principles and it supports the rule of law, one of those is to ensure that we do not obey illegal orders.
It’s an inherent responsibility in who we are. And so what we need to do is ensure that we don’t create an environment that puts us on a track conceivably where the United States military finds itself in a civil military crisis with a commander in chief who would have us do illegal things.
4. John Hutson, retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, the Navy’s former top lawyer
Hutson also addressed the Democratic National Convention, citing many of the same concerns as Allen. Here’s an excerpt from his speech:
Donald Trump calls himself the law-and-order candidate—but he will violate international law. In his words, he endorses torture—at a minimum. He’ll order our troops to commit war crimes, like killing civilians. And he actually said, you have to take out [terrorists’] families. And what did he say when he was told that was illegal? He said, ‘Our troops won’t refuse. Believe me.’ This morning, this very morning, he personally invited Russia to hack us. That’s not law and order; that’s criminal intent.
5. John Noonan, former U.S. Air Force captain and Minuteman III nuclear missile launch officer, former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s Republican primary opponent Jeb Bush
Noonan, described by Mother Jones’s Becca Andrews as “a devout #NeverTrumper,” issued a tweet storm upon learning of a report by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough alleging that Trump repeatedly asked an unnamed foreign policy adviser why the United States couldn’t issue a first launch of nuclear weapons.
Here, we piece together a few of Noonan’s tweets (you can read the whole tweet storm here):
I don’t know if Scarborough is telling whole truth here. Anonymous sources suck. BUT… if he is… buckle the hell up. Because Trump would be undoing six decades of proven deterrence theory. The purpose of nukes is that they are never used. Trump disagrees? This would be the single greatest strategic shift in U.S. national security in decades. In a Trump presidency, our foreign policy would be this. “Leave our alliances, fall back on a nuclear first use policy.” Does he understand just how F’ing dangerous that is? But what really concerns me, as a former nuke guy, is the idea of a narcissist walking around with nuclear authenticators…[I]magine having to turn launch keys not knowing if we were under attack or if it was b/c foreign leader said a mean thing on Twitter.
Noonan, in that Twitter stream, also asserts that Trump “doesn’t have a clue about” the nuclear triad. In the December debate in which Trump seemed to prove that point, he punted with the following comment:
The biggest problem we have today is nuclear—nuclear proliferation, and having some maniac, having some madman, go out and get a nuclear weapon. In my opinion, that is the biggest, single problem that our country faces.
Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder