On Wednesday, Politico analyzed how President Donald Trump's leadership has weakened the Pentagon's power, by creating a "credibility gap" that increases anti-American sentiment around the world and erodes U.S. soft power.
"In the past three months, Trump has ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria without notice, outraging their Kurdish partners. He's bucked the military brass by granting clemency to troops accused or convicted of war crimes. He's threatened to seize oil from Syria, and most recently warned he might illegally bomb cultural sites in Iran before being forced to backtrack," wrote Bryan Bender and Jacqueline Feldscher. "In all those instances, top military leaders have had to cover for the president, in some cases dodging direct responses to Trump’s comments and in others pretending Trump didn’t say what he said."
"It's terrible," said President George W. Bush's former undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman. "Trump is basically essentially doing things that make the Russians and Chinese happy. They can say, 'They are just like us. They do what's in their interest. The notion that America is different is all bullsh*t.'" Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin agreed, saying, "Trump's off-handed remarks about targeting cultural sites — an illegal order should he try which the Pentagon could never obey — highlights what happens when Trump's political style clashes with the legal and planning processes developed by the Pentagon over decades."
All of this could have serious consequences that outlast Trump. America's allies could be less willing to coordinate with the U.S. military, question the intelligence it provides, or even worry that U.S. troops will commit war crimes — all of which will impede American efforts to achieve diplomatic and national security objectives.
"As the military conflict with Iran deepens, the president's behavior is hamstringing the U.S. military, warned nearly a dozen current and former officials. In particular, Trump's threats to commit violations of international law are fueling perceptions in the Muslim world that the U.S. military is little more than an imperial occupying force," wrote Bender and Feldscher. "And the Pentagon’s credibility faces its next big test Wednesday, when senior military leaders brief skeptical lawmakers in the House and Senate on the decision to conduct a drone strike on Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, a move that sparked the missile attack that struck Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops."
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