Our geopolitical fate now lies with the armed forces

In this April 12, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump pauses during a news conference in the East Room at the White House in Washington. Once soft on Russia and hard on China, President Donald Trump rapidly reversed course in the last weeks, concluding there’s more business to be done with Beijing than with Moscow. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Though the president’s decision to hand off much authority to the national security and armed forces apparatuses may seem comforting – with his single-digit IQ removed from the equation – this represents a grave violation of our founding principles. If we have a civilian commander-in-chief who wants to give wide authority to the armed forces, yet has no understanding of foreign policy, then influence of civilian control of the armed forces is undermined.

Critics are correct in asserting that civilian control of the armed forces is something of a misnomer. They are also correct in arguing that Trump is not the first president to surround himself with current and former military personnel. However, his combination of naiveté, foot in mouth disease and gullibility make this a particularly dangerous situation.

Civilian control over the armed forces is meant to ensure that those forces are used in the way most beneficial to the American people. It is this civilian leadership that is intended rein in military minds with itchy trigger fingers (think of President Truman and General Douglas MacArthur). Putting the current president at the helm of our nuclear arsenal is unsettling. However, it is more unsettling to have the moderating influence of a sound-minded civilian jettisoned.

Trump’s close advisors are a mix of esteemed military-thinkers, self-described adorers of darkness and white nationalism and a menagerie of the deranged, many with clear signs of authoritarian personality defects.

The sum? A group of individuals who salivate at the thought of launching full-scale war and have no apparent ability to think logically about the potential outcome of doing so. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis seem to be the only moderating influences on Trump and his team, using their perspective and experience with war to slow the collective roll.

Last week, the United States dropped the largest non-nuclear weapon in our arsenal. Most analysts argue that the first use of the MOAB was justified, as the purpose – to destroy a tunnel complex in Afghanistan – warranted the use of this massive bomb.

What is troubling is the blanket authorization Trump handed to the armed forces, as confirmed with this strike. Obviously some degree of autonomy must be preserved in order for battlefield decisions to be made in a timely manner. Yet, when using such massive force – granting “total authorization,” as Trump stated – seems to put us on a course bound for at best, complication.

Enter North Korea.

Allowing the military this level of autonomy could bring about disaster if conflict is to erupt on the Korean peninsula, even if military minds are better suited to making military decisions than an aging reality star.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence waves before leaving for Japan, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

That being said, the political, economic, social and long-term impact of launching a strike against North Korea necessitates outside counsel. This isn’t a situation in which Trump can lay out options A, B and C, then wipe his hands of the decision making and grant a blank check. Vice President Mike Pence, who is making rounds in South Korea, insisted that Seoul would be consulted on any decisions. Until the president makes a similar statement, there is little reason for South Koreans to sleep comfortably.

We are wading into uncertain waters with North Korea. This is a nation run under a cult of personality, which has repeatedly stated its intention to launch war against the United States and its allies. If North Korea possesses the ability to launch even one moderately successful nuclear attack, or rain down upon Seoul with conventional weapons, provocation would be disastrous.

We now find ourselves in a perplexing situation. The president has no ability, experience or perspective with which to make military and foreign policy decisions. Most of his team has no political or foreign policy experience either.

So, more often than not, the most experienced and qualified persons near Trump are members of the armed forces or the national security apparatus. Trump voters likely didn’t think he would be interested in launching wars and strikes, given his domestic focus and disdain for interventionism. Yet, Trump is now prepping the nation for intervention in Syria and likely some sort of action against North Korea.

Faith must now be entrusted in the military leaders surrounding Trump to act wisely and to consider the ramifications other administrations have used political and foreign policy experts to analyze.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu. He tweets @ChrisPSacco.