by Brandon J. Weichert
Have you noticed an uptick in the appearance of a specific talking point from the political and military elite about President Trump’s recent drawdown in northern Syria? It goes something like this: Yes, the president was in a tight spot in Syria – caught between Turkey, a NATO ally, and the Kurds, who we were allied with against ISIS. But the president was wrong to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria the way he did. Very often, these detractors say the president ordered the precipitous drawdown of U.S. forces in Syria without “consulting the Pentagon.”
So let us suppose President Trump had consulted with the Pentagon more closely about the Syria drawdown, and the Pentagon’s leaders were explicit in their disapproval and advised him against it – what should Trump have done then? These detractors appear to assume that once the military “leaders” have spoken out against a political decision, the president is bound to follow what is supposed to be nothing more than advice from the Armed Forces.
This is not the way our Founders established America’s government.
I can certainly understand the generals’ desire to be heard on matters of national security. They’re national security professionals, after all, and their opinions are worthy of consideration.
But generals and other experts need to remember that the president’s job is more comprehensive and involves more than just their specialized concerns. There may be legitimate reasons beyond what they can see why an otherwise good policy cannot or should not be pursued. Above all, the generals must understand that the Constitution doesn’t require the president to consult them about anything. Regardless of how boneheaded any decision the president makes might be (though, in this case, I do not subscribe to the opinion that it was a bad move), they are obligated to carry out their orders.
The military is constitutionally bound to follow the president’s orders – no matter how strongly they may disagree with the president who gives them.
Many of the same military and intelligence officials assured past presidents that invading Afghanistan and Iraq would be a cakewalk. Nearly two decades later, these supposed experts insist that the United States can never leave the Mideast. Of course, they are also unable to devise a strategy for victory. Instead, the Pentagon’s best solution is to remain in these far-flung lands indefinitely, against the expressed wishes of the president, the American people, and even our regional allies.
The people at the top of the U.S. national security apparatus are supposed to anticipate changes in politics and to mitigate any damage that may be incurred from political decisions. The Pentagon and various alphabet soup intelligence agencies argue that the president blind-sided them.
This cannot be a serious claim.
Since 2018, the president has indicated over and over that he wants U.S. forces out of northern Syria. The Pentagon knew this. While national security officials, such as former Secretary of Defense James Mattis or former National Security Advisor John Bolton, managed to stop President Trump from implementing his desired policy outcome, the permanent military and intelligence officers should have had contingency plans for the day when the president would make good on his vow.
Yet, there were reports in the press that since 2018, the U.S. military slowly has been implementing a drawdown of U.S. troops in Syria in anticipation of the day when the president finally issued his order to remove all remaining forces.
What’s more, for all of the talk of having been taken by surprise, the Syrian Kurds were somehow able to get Bashar al-Assad’s forces (along with the Russians) to intervene on their behalf against Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria – in less than 24 hours.
Some surprise, eh?
The permanent national security state was not caught off-guard by President Trump’s order to evacuate from northern Syria. The Pentagon knew it was coming for at least a year. The military just had people, like Mattis or Bolton, who could insulate the Pentagon from having to implement a policy the military did not support.
America’s lavishly funded national security bureaucracy simply did not care about the president’s order – to the point that they ignored it for as long as they possibly could. And when the president did finally issue his order, the national security state made the president pay a terrible political price in the press for what was clearly retaliation for Trump’s uncouth insubordination to the hallowed military-intelligence-industrial complex.
This is not how a professional military and intelligence community, charged with defending an advanced republic, is supposed to act. This is how a two-bit, Third World junta behaves. Such behavior should worry every American, regardless of their political preference.
It doesn’t worry many people, though, because “Orange Man Bad.” The Orange Man Bad mentality has become official U.S. foreign policy – and it shows.
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Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report. He is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at The American Spectator . His writings on national security have appeared in Real Clear Politics and he has been featured on the BBC and CBS News. Follow him on Twitter at @WeTheBrandon.