A major rupture in civil-military relations

Fred Kaplan at Slate says yesterday’s op-ed by retired admiral William McRaven is a big deal.

One former senior intelligence official who read the op-ed sent me an email: “Takes my breath away. This is BIG!!!” Another wrote, again on background, that fellow officers—retired and active-duty—will take this as a sign of a major rupture in civil-military relations, brought on by Trump’s blatant disrespect for national security officials and the entire security system.

Which has to be alarming for people in the military. The guy at the top who can unilaterally make things happen is a flaming lunatic and egomaniac – yes that’s pretty scary.

Then, late on Thursday night, 12 former CIA directors and deputy directors released a similar statement. By coincidence, the statement was written a few hours before McRaven’s op-ed appeared, according to two of the organizers.

The intelligence officials stopped short of asking Trump to revoke their clearances—that idea hadn’t come up in conversation. But like McRaven, they defended Brennan’s integrity and denounced Trump’s action as having “nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

The statement went on: “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” adding that “this action is quite clearly a signal to other former and current officials” to stay silent. It noted that some of the signatories agree with Brennan’s long string of critical statements about Trump, while others do not. However, they all agree that decisions on security clearances “should be based on national security concerns and not political views.”

Plus, again, the views aren’t political so much as moral. Trump is a bad man and that wouldn’t change if he switched parties.

The ex-officials include William Webster, Porter Goss, Gen. Michael Hayden, and John McLaughlin (those who served Republicans); Leon Panetta, Gen. David Petraeus, Gen. James Clapper, Michael Morell, Avril Haines and David Cohen (those who served Democrats); and George Tenet, and Stephen Kappes (who served presidents of both parties).

More significant, seven of the 12—Webster, Goss, Hayden, McLaughlin, Clapper, Morell, and Kappes—were career intelligence officials. One, Petraeus, was a career combat commander. [Update, Aug. 17, 2018, 12:10 a.m.: Just before midnight, a 13th ex-director, Robert Gates—another career CIA official who has served under several presidents of both parties—added his name to the statement. He had been inaccessible, until then.]

One of the signers told me that some who signed the statement did so reluctantly, given the long-standing principle that intelligence and military officers should remain apolitical. However, the consensus was that Trump’s behavior has gone beyond the pale.

Again – it’s not political. Firing people because they criticize you isn’t a matter of party allegiance, it’s a matter of crazed reckless narcissism. Trump holds a political office but what’s wrong with him is moral rather than political.

I’m going to give the statement its own post. It needs room to breathe.

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