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US President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Ready... Fire... Aim: How an Unhinged Trump Is Threatening US National Security

John Atcheson

Trump doesn’t do nuance. He got elected by overtly exploiting fear, spreading hate, and promising to make us safer.  Unfortunately, his simple-minded approach to the Presidency is making us less safe.  Here’s how.

Going Off Half-Cocked

Trump’s first act as commander-in-chief reveals how his off-hand, macho-man, attention deficit disorder approach to decision-making poses a clear and present danger to our troops, and our country.  Let’s face it: the Yemini strike approved by Trump was a disaster.  It killed civilians including women and children, a US serviceman lost his life and two more were injured.  We also lost a $70 million aircraft. 

Lauren McCauley reporting in Common Dreams, notes that Reprieve, a British Human Rights organization, "obtained evidence that many as 23 civilians were killed in the US raid, including a newborn baby boy, and ten children. The heavily pregnant mother was shot in the stomach during the raid, and subsequently gave birth to an injured baby boy, according to local reports. The baby died on Tuesday 31st."

Both al Qaeda and ISIS use civilian deaths as a recruiting tool, and there has long been a debate about whether drone strikes create more terrorists than they kill.  Empirical evidence suggests they do.  Even an unrepentant hawk like General Flynn—Trump’s National Security Advisor—agrees

One thing is for sure—the number and kind of civilian casualties the Yemeni strike generated will be used over and over again by ISIS and al Qaeda to recruit and to raise money.

How did Trump make the decision? Over dinner, with a collection of advisors that included foreign policy "experts" like his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former Breitbart whack-job Steven Bannon. Oh, thank god they were there. Reports suggest that the intelligence for the raid was inadequate and filled with uncertainties. And White House spokesman Sean Spicer's claim that the raid had already been approved by the Obama administration turned out to be false—you know, what we call a lie.

But this is vintage Trump. He declined to meet with intelligence officials for briefings every other President has considered vital, he wants to simplify the process for deciding when to conduct such strikes … on and on the madness goes. And when it blows up in his face, he calls it a "success."  The buck stops … well … not here … somewhere else.  Anywhere.

The Immigration Ban Makes Him Recruiter-in-Chief for ISIS and al Qaeda

Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries reinforces the narrative that ISIS uses to discredit the US and to recruit new members at a time when it was losing influence, losing battles and preparing its followers for vastly diminished prospects. Now?  Time will tell, but Trump may well be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s another front in the war on terror.  It’s the battle for the heart and soul of Islam, and until Trump pulled his clumsy bull-in-a-China-shop brand of "diplomacy" ISIS was on the defensive.

The US military has a lot of experience with "protracted wars," and the clear lesson from all of them was that such wars were ultimately won in the "hearts and minds" of the people, not on the battlefield.

In the closing year of Obama’s term, Islamic clerics across the world were beginning to decry ISIS’s claim to be the Caliphate and its cherry picking of the Koran to spread its violent and extremist version of Islam.  As former US special envoy John Allen—a retired Marine Corp General—put it:

As we seek to expose [ISIS’] true nature we must also tell a positive story, one that highlights our respect – our profound respect for Islam’s proud traditions, its rich history, and celebration of scholarship and family and community.

We must work with clerics and scholars and teachers and parents to tell the story of how we celebrate Islam, even as we show that [ISIS] perverts it.

Trump’s unilateral and clumsy executive order, done in the name of making us safer, completely undercut moderate Islamic allies, reinforced the radical’s narrative that America hates Islam, and served as a giant recruiting poster for both al Qaeda and ISIS.

The Ban Also Endangers Troops in the Field and Undermines Their Future Security

Many of the people who had cleared vetting and were scheduled to immigrate to the US, had been interpreters, intelligence operatives, or had otherwise supported the US efforts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and the Sudan, and they were in danger because of it.  Aside from the grotesque immorality of leaving these people to suffer at the hands of brutal extremists, there’s a practical issue here that could seriously compromise US security now and in the future.

How successful will we be if we need to recruit support from populations in countries we might engage militarily with—whether covertly or in an open war—in the future, given this kind of track record?  Not very.  And with troops in over 150 countries across the world—many of them in small, covert roles that rely directly on the goodwill and support of the people living there—we need to demonstrate that we keep our word and protect those who help us.

Bottom line?  Trump’s ill-conceived and poorly executed ban on immigration, just increased the risk to our military troops overseas, and made it more difficult for us to recruit support in any future misadventures. Even on its own imperialist terms, the decision was a disaster.

Alienating Allies

The system of alliances that the US has created and nurtured has, for the most part, served us well. Yes, the focus on military alliances creates risks; and yes, the size and scope of our imperialist foreign policy is obscene. But if you’re going to continue the imperialist policies we now pursue—and Trump is picking fights with just about everybody—then you ought to cultivate your alliances.  But Trump is not only questioning long-standing alliances like NATO, he’s alienating leaders with his brash, macho, mindless mania.  Witness his recent call with Australia's Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, in which he cut the call short and told the Prime Minister it was his "worst call" of the day.  Turnbull had the grace to characterize the call as civil, but you have to believe the first thing he did after hanging up was to be sure his nuclear bunker was up to snuff.  Look, if you’re having trouble getting along with Australia, you’ve got a severe social disorder.

Bottom line: Functionally, Trump's decision-making is straight out of Lord of the Flies: adolescent, violent, cliquish, competitive, and dangerous. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson. John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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