by Christopher Roach
During the Iraq War, the insurgency spent a lot of its resources attacking infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid. This made life miserable for ordinary Iraqis.
That outcome seems to go against the logic of insurgency, where the center of gravity is the people’s allegiance. But making life uncertain and unbearable means that even if the insurgents cannot win, they ensure the regime cannot win either. The cultivation of chaos exposes the government as ineffective and ultimately removes its legitimacy.
The Anti-Trump Resistance
A different kind of planned chaos has challenged Trump’s presidency. While the tactics are different, the effect has been the same. Even before President Trump was sworn in, commentators and Democratic Party officials spoke openly of impeachment. Simultaneously, the intelligence services were spreading tall tales of Russian “collusion,” leading to a nearly three-year-long distraction in the form of the special counsel.
Then Trump faced nationwide injunctions from courts intent on blocking his core executive powers. When Trump wanted to withdraw U.S. forces from the Syrian quagmire, the entire foreign policy community joined in a chorus of condemnation. His secretary of defense, James Mattis, resigned in protest. Later, Trump was impeached – though not convicted – after a cabal of intelligence agents were unhappy with his phone call with the leader of Ukraine.
Now, after a months-long, highly destructive coronavirus shutdown also supported by the establishment, the country is facing war in the streets. The spark was an arrest in Minnesota, where the suspect, George Floyd, died in police custody. Local protests and looting ensued. But a united effort by journalists, Antifa terrorists, social media, and other sources of influence fanned this spark into a nationwide conflagration.
Practically every corporation in America has now weighed in with gestures of support and a vague message that we all need to “do better.” Politicians, cops, and national guardsmen have taken a knee. In the nation’s capital, rioters defaced statues and set fire to an historic church across the street from the White House. The disorder has now gone on for more than a week.
Trump has so far had a pretty light touch, even directing the Justice Department to investigate Floyd’s death. He has been so reticent to act that his conservative supporters are begging him to do something. Trump did suggest at one point he might call in the military, but so far he has demurred. On Sunday, he announced the National Guard would begin to withdraw from Washington, D.C.
In spite of this, the president has been pilloried. The use of police to clear out rioters from the vicinity of the White House is being treated like a rerun of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. His conciliatory words have been twisted by the media. The mere suggestion of using the military to restore order has led to particularly harsh criticism from former military men, including some who served in the Trump White House.
His former secretary of defense, and esteemed former Marine Corps General Mattis said, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. . . . We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Mattis concluded, ominously, “Only by adopting a new path – which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals – will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.”
The arsonists in Lafayette Square were described by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen as having a “peaceful protest.” Channeling community college Marxism, he said, the riots should not distract us from “deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage.”
Worse, active-duty Army general and current Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Milley implied that the proposed use of the military to stop riots would violate an unwritten code, warning his subordinates that “we all committed our lives to the idea that is America – we will stay true to that oath and the American people.”
While this all sounds very idealistic, it is mostly middlebrow horseshit. Like the FBI’s claim of independence, it is anti-democratic elitism masquerading as the protection of democracy.
A more important tradition, one actually enshrined in the Constitution, is civilian control of the military. The people are sovereign, they elect a president, and the president is the commander in chief of that military. The military is an instrument in his hands.
All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic
Understandably, the military has a strong aversion to being used domestically. This tradition deepened during America’s 75-year exercise in global empire-building. This tradition, however, is not a constitutional requirement, but rather a creature of statute.
Even after the advent of professionalized police, the military has been used to reestablish order during domestic disturbances and is permitted to do so under the Constitution and the Insurrection Act. Under George Washington, it put down the Whiskey Rebellion and after that fought hostile Indian tribes on American soil for over a century.
The Civil War, of course, was its most dramatic domestic deployment. But even in the 20th century, President Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne to Little Rock to enforce Supreme Court orders on desegregation in 1957. President Johnson and President Nixon relied on the army to deal with violent anti-Vietnam protests, both in Washington, D.C. and Detroit. Most recently, President George H. W. Bush deployed the Marines to help suppress the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Local and state police can normally control riots. But riots, combined with media support, big business support, local government support, organized Antifa groups, billionaire financiers, and a conspiracy against the president by factions within the government, is something both new and dangerous. The rhetoric and the tactics are reminiscent of CIA-funded “color revolutions,” complete with calls for Trump to “step down” because it is “inevitable.”
As in those color revolutions, the current protests are made in the name of managerial class ideology—the fight for progressive values and globalism against structural racism. In other words – as the “heartfelt letters” from Fortune 500 companies make clear—this is an establishment-supported riot. They consider Trump, and his deplorable supporters, hostile outsiders.
Prestigious ex-generals joining this struggle and directing military power away from presidential control is entirely new and extremely dangerous. Until recently, retired generals either went on to live in obscurity or joined the board of a defense contractor. They usually continued the nonpartisanship that marked their career in public service. Now they are combining with aggrieved ex-officials, civil servants, and mutinous active-duty officers.
And for what?
There is no constitutional right to riot. There is no constitutional obstacle to using the military to suppress riots. Our globalist foreign policy is certainly not enshrined in the Constitution. Mattis’ and his peers’ invocation of the Constitution is a pretext.
The military critics of Trump, like the undisciplined units taking a knee, are overawed and easily manipulated by the language of anti-racism. This is the chief moral foundation of the managerial class and the modern administrative state. It is also one of its chief mechanisms of social control.
A Left-Wing Military Coup?
The Left for a long time worried about a right-wing military coup. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was somewhat plausible. While nonpartisan, the military became a belligerent in the culture war during Vietnam, where the anti-draft movement united various leftist factions.
When the draft ended and the all-volunteer military began, most of the protests ended, too. The military retreated from public consciousness, becoming an increasingly separate society held in some contempt by the elite. Multigenerational military families became common. The South was overrepresented among recruits. And the military – particularly the officer corps – became more Republican over time.
Like Clinton before him, Obama spent at least some of his energies reining this in. During his presidency, the military became soaked in the same corporate diversity speak that originated in our elite universities. He ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and extended protections to transsexuals. The military academies became hotbeds of leftist indoctrination, where militant cadets and a literal Communist could receive commissions.
Thus, many of the top brass today had been molded by the eight-year social revolution of Obama’s presidency. Even if not leftists or liberal Democrats, most were hostile to Trump’s style and his proposed reformation of the military and foreign policy in a more nationalist, America-First direction.
First, this would limit their mission, as it would reduce the need for long overseas deployments. Policing streets among civilians is not something the military brass is necessarily averse to doing; they just think it’s more important that the streets of Baghdad are safe than the ones here at home.
Second, being dragged into a domestic conflict involving the intersection of race and policing under the direction of a controversial president would risk the social ostracism that the military had endured during the post-Vietnam era. With many of the top brass making a permanent home in Washington, D.C. during the last phase of their careers, this would impose a significant personal burden. Presumably, some are true believers as well.
Mattis and his peers have brought shame on themselves. They have decided to ally with people whose lives, goals, and vision of America is not only contrary to the Constitution but contrary to everything the American military stands for, not least order and discipline. They have adopted extreme notions of “white privilege” and “systemic racism” that were only heard in professors’ lounges a decade ago.
Some have appealed to the military’s own ethos of color-blindness and national unity. But the military is a place where racial peace prevails primarily because neither the individual nor the ethnic group is paramount, but rather the unifying mission of national defense. And, unlike the nation at large, the military can remove those who don’t snap and salute at the latest progressive ideological fad.
Generals and soldiers should vote for whomever they like. But generals, like the soldiers they command, are required to follow orders from the elected commander in chief. No one elected these generals or gave them a greater voice than the most humble citizen in our national affairs. They transform themselves from honorable servants to dangerous mutineers when they encourage those in uniform to disobey the commander in chief.
The FBI and the CIA did not succeed in galvanizing the American people against the president. Their prestige and power were never the same as the military’s. If the military joins the left-wing resistance, it would succeed in commandeering the most powerful instrument of the state.
Anyone who really cares about the Constitution and the rule of law should be alarmed. The unelected parts of the government, including the military, are revolting against the electoral control by the people enshrined in the Constitution.
While not yet in full coup mode, the preconditions are now there: the idea that election results do not deserve respect, that a faction of the country is beyond the pale, and that patriots with a “higher loyalty” must save the country from itself. Mutinous generals would find at least some young soldiers willing to join them.
The nation will be irrevocably changed if the resistance succeeds with the military’s help, and this would usher in a far bloodier domestic conflict than the one Mattis and company now claim they want to avoid. As the great conservative statesman Edmund Burke observed, “The nature of things requires that the army should never act but as an instrument. The moment that, erecting itself into a deliberative body, it shall act according to its own resolutions, the government, be it what it may, will immediately degenerate into a military democracy—a species of political monster which has always ended by devouring those who have produced it.”
– – –
Christopher Roach is an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, The Journal of Property Rights in Transition, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel.