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Above the law: The Trump Doctrine

The New York Times reports:

President Trump on Thursday reversed a decision by the Navy seeking to oust a Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, from the elite commando force.

Chief Gallagher has been at the center of a high-profile war crimes case and was granted clemency by the president last Friday. He was notified on Wednesday that the Navy planned to start the process of revoking his status as a SEAL and taking away the Trident pin that symbolizes that status.

Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Trump announced on Twitter that the process would not go ahead: “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!”


A short time later, an Instagram account belonging to Chief Gallagher and his wife reposted the message with the comment, “Boom,” and a series of explosion, flag and applause emojis.

The whipsaw reversal, after the Navy believed it had official approval to act, is the latest twist in the unusually public melee over Chief Gallagher, which at times has pitted the commander in chief directly against senior Navy leaders.

On Tuesday, multiple Navy and Defense Department officials said the Navy had cleared its plan to start the Trident revocation process with the White House, though they acknowledged the risk of seeking to punish a SEAL who counts Mr. Trump among his vocal supporters. They said they knew the president could easily reverse the decision.

The Navy’s decision to start the process to oust Chief Gallagher and three SEAL officers who supervised him was not made in haste, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. The commander of Naval Special Warfare, Rear Adm. Collin Green, discussed the matter with Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, and the Navy briefed Defense Secretary Mark Esper about it.

In the hours before Admiral Green issued formal notification letters to the four SEALs, two of the officials said, the Navy reached out to the White House for clearance multiple times.

But mixed signals and reversed decisions are not uncommon in the White House, where rival aides with opposing views, and sometimes outside influences, jockey for the president’s attention. [Continue reading…]

Presidential “doctrines” sometimes get formalized and sometimes are constructs created by observers.

In the case of Trump, neither form has come into play — probably because Trump’s unpredictable behavior suggests he is guided mostly by impulses rather than any design with sufficient coherence to be labelled a doctrine.

Even so, Trump has consistently amplified a Republican doctrine of absolute expediency that actively asserts a right to do virtually anything in the service of the party or the president.

The concept of a war crime is probably repugnant to Trump, since to his way of thinking, any action can be justified if it targets the enemy.

Trump’s treatment of American war criminals no doubt appears pro-military to most of his supporters, even while he is clearly undermining the backbone of the military — its chain of command and commitment to lawful conduct.

The erstwhile draft-dodger might look like he’s showing solidarity with lower rank soldiers, but there’s a much darker subtext here.

Trump is signalling as he has signaled before that there is nothing out of bounds when it comes to thwarting ones opponents.

When a president casts a U.S. ambassador as an enemy, then predicts “she’s going to go through some things,” this is Mafia talk. But unlike a Mafia boss whose power extends no further than the organization he runs, Trump can conjure a climate of violence without having to employ hit men.

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