News & Politics

How Trump Is Already Showing Signs of Major Disrespect to the U.S. Military

President Trump's immigration order undermined his Secretary of Defense and abandoned U.S. allies.

On Jan. 28, former general James Mattis was sworn in as Secretary of Defense--and prop for Trump's immigration order.
Photo Credit: You Tube/ PBS NewsHour

“I helped get those people freed at Dulles [Airport] last night,” a Washington attorney told me outside a Washington coffee shop on Sunday morning.

“You helped those people get out?” a tall silver-haired passerby interrupted us. He shook the attorney's hand.

"I just got back from Baghdad," the man said. "I’m career U.S. Army. They blocked three of my translators with that order. These are Iraqis who have been working for me for years. These are people who have risked a lot, more than many U.S. soldiers. And we’re turning them away? It is unthinkable. It is unacceptable.”

Asked what the effect would be on getting Army translators in the future, the man said, “They’ll never work for us again. And by the way, I’m rock-solid Republican.”

Such dismay is just one part of the public opinion surge that has driven Trump’s disapproval rating north of 50 percent in just the eighth day of his presidency. (Obama wasn’t disapproved of by 50 percent of Americans until the 936rd day of his presidency.)

The U.S. military was a bastion of Trump support on Election Day, but his supporters are fast learning that military values of decorum, order and duty count for little in the calculations of President Trump and his alter ego Steve Bannon.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former Marine Corps general, was a bystander in the writing of Trump’s executive order banning refugees from seven Middle Eastern countries. It was Bannon who insisted that the ban include foreign nationals holding green cards, which are provisional acceptance of citizenship.

Mattis was not given a chance to comment on the order, according to the New York Times.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Last summer, Mattis, former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, said Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim visitors was “causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through the international system.”

Nonetheless Trump used Mattis as a prop when he signed the executive order on Saturday.  By combining Mattis’ swearing-in with the issuance of the executive order, Trump used Mattis to endorse a policy the general had no influence on. And he did so in front of the Pentagon’s Wall of Heroes, honoring soldiers who have earned a Medal of Honor for valor in combat. 

Trump exploited Mattis' reputation for his own political purposes, said Ryan Evans, editor of the War on the Rocks, a military blog. Trump’s order will probably wind up barring translators who served under Mattis, Evans noted.

"It seems difficult to see how this decision squares with the values represented by the Medal of Honor," Evans wrote. "From the CIA’s Memorial Wall to the Hall of Heroes, Trump seems intent on tarnishing the sacrifices of our heroes."

Some veterans are now scrambling to carve out an exemption for Iraqi translators. But the shock wave Trump’s order sent through the international system cannot be undone.

The decision showed not only a "sickening lack of empathy," Kyle Dykstra, former member of the 82nd Airborne told the Chicago Tribune, “but a lack of perspective for how it will complicate the lives of U.S. troops who work with Muslim troops and interpreters."

The Islamic State is claiming vindication, saying Trump has confirmed the prediction of Anwar Awlaki, the American-born jihadist who said that Western governments would eventually suppress their own Muslim populations as part of the so-called war on terror. (Awlaki was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.)

“The effect will probably in some areas give ISIS some more propaganda,” former Navy pilot John McCain said with studious understatement on Sunday.

In short, Trump’s executive order on immigration undermined his Secretary of Defense, abandoned U.S. allies and emboldened America’s most violent enemies. But if U.S. military personnel are having second thoughts about Trump's carelessness, the White House is not. An unnamed "senior administration official" told White House pool reporters Sunday that the executive order “really is a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level.”

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. He is the author of  JFK and CIA: The Secret Assassination Files (Kindle) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.

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