National security experts fear the United States’ ‘vulnerability’ as Trump falls ill: report

National security experts fear the United States’ ‘vulnerability’ as Trump falls ill: report
President Donald J. Trump greets supporters during a drive by outside of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Bethesda, Md. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

With President Donald Trump hospitalized with COVID-19 at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and many of his Republican allies also having tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the words "security" and "vulnerability" are coming up a lot. Reporters Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung use those words in an article published in the Washington Post this week, warning that the president's hospitalization — along with the chaos in the U.S. in general — is a major concern to national security experts.

"The U.S. president is hospitalized with a virus he refused to treat as a grave threat, in the final weeks of an election whose results he will not pledge to accept, as the nation confronts a struggling economy, an unyielding pandemic and racial unrest," Miller and DeYoung explain. "The combination of these crises has plunged the United States into a vortex of potential vulnerability that national security experts said is probably without precedent."

Nick Rasmussen, who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center under Trump and before that, President Barack Obama, believes that there is good reason to be concerned about national security while Trump is hospitalized.

"I see weakness and division and, above all else, distractedness," Rasmussen told the Post. "Any problem anywhere else is just a third- or fourth-order problem right now because we are so self-absorbed, inward looking and consumed with our own toxicity. And when you're distracted, you make mistakes."

The infection of Trump and many other prominent Republicans, Miller and DeYoung note, came at a time when "members of Trump's national security team faced accusations that they were using their positions to ensure his reelection." For example, the Post journalists point out, National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe "was excoriated by his predecessors last week for declassifying discredited intelligence reports supposedly implicating Hillary Clinton in an effort to 'stir up a scandal' against Trump in 2016 involving Russia" — adding that "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was rebuffed in his effort to secure a meeting with the Pope by Vatican officials who reportedly regarded his approach as an election ploy to please Catholics."

Former Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin told the Post, "In a normal government, you could probably absorb some of this dysfunction. But this government, on national security policy, has had a very sketchy — to say the least — process for making foreign policy decisions."

Stephen J. Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush, explained that the United States' "adversaries may think that America may be distracted, so that they can get away with something." But Hadley quickly added that on the other hand, those adversaries might fear that if Trump attacks them in some way, it "could give Trump an opportunity to be presidential, to be commander in chief — and that strengthens his hand with the American people."

"I think that is probably the thinking of China," Hadley told the Post. "I think it's probably the thinking even of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I think it's true for the Iranians. They're just going to hunker down and get through this period and see who's elected."

Hadley also told the Post that the United States' greatest vulnerability might be after the election and before the inauguration in January.

"In many ways, that's the more serious time of vulnerability and distraction," Hadley warned. "I'm more worried about that right now."

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