As the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office approaches, we can already see the novice commander-in-chief’s approach to military action. The approach is to empower “his” generals. And the results? A triumph of image over substance. “Spin it to win it” is the byword for Trump’s military “strategy.”
A few examples:
- The disastrous raid on Yemen that led to the death of a Navy SEAL as well as many civilians, including children, was spun by the Trump administration as a great success. At the same time, Trump pinned the death of the SEAL on his generals, saying “they” lost him.
- The launch of 59 expensive cruise missiles against a Syrian airfield did little to change the actions of the Assad government. Nor did it knockout the airfield. Yet it was spun by Trump as a remarkable victory. In his words, “We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing. It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five. I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.”
- The use of the “mother of all bombs” (MOAB) in Afghanistan was seized upon by Trump as an example of his toughness and decisiveness vis-à-vis the Obama administration’s use of force. Yet Trump didn’t even know about the bomb until after it was used. Nevertheless, he boasted “If you look at what’s happened over the last eight weeks [of my administration] and compare that really to what’s happened over the past eight years, you’ll see there’s a tremendous difference, tremendous difference.” Dropping MOAB, Trump claimed on scant evidence, “was another very, very successful mission.”
- The Trump administration lost track of an aircraft carrier battle group, saying it was on its way as a show of force against North Korea even as it was headed in the opposite direction. This blunder was chalked up to a miscommunication between the White House and Pentagon, even as allies such as South Korea and Japan expressed concern about the credibility of U.S. support at a time of rising tensions.
As Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest must-read piece at TomDispatch.com:
President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered a set of generals or retired generals – James “Mad Dog” Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security – men already deeply implicated in America’s failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he’s then left them to do their damnedest. “What I do is I authorize my military,” he told reporters recently. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing and, frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”
Have the generals really been “so successful lately,” President Trump? The facts suggest otherwise. Meanwhile, Trump has not yet learned that generals always want more – they believe they can win if they just get more troops, more money, more weaponry. They’ll support Trump as long as he keeps funneling more of everything their way – and as long as he keeps spinning their blunders and missteps as victories.
For the moment, Trump’s generals may love him for his “spin it to win it” boosterism and his blank checks of support. But beware, men wearing stars. Trump has already shown he prefers to delegate responsibility as well as authority when things go bad (recall the failed raid on Yemen and the dead SEAL).
Trump may not be a micro-manager, but that’s because he doesn’t know anything. He just wants to spin military action as a win – for Trump. If the generals keep losing, Trump will turn on them. The question is, will they turn on him?
More disturbing still: When failed military actions are spun as alt-fact “victories,” the violence isn’t done simply to facts: it’s done to innocent people around the world. It’s no game when innocent children die in the false name of “winning.”
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.