Fired Navy secretary on Gallagher fiasco: I don't think Trump understands the full definition of "warfighter"

I’ll skip the easy jokes about bone spurs that the headline inspires and get to the heart of this. What am I missing in my understanding of what happened here that somehow entitles Richard Spencer to get on his high horse and lecture everyone else about “good order of discipline”? As far as I know, this was a straightforward dispute between Trump and the Pentagon until Spencer intervened. Trump wanted Eddie Gallagher to retain his SEAL Trident Pin, no questions asked; Mark Esper lobbied Trump to let the Navy hold a formal administrative review of whether Gallagher should keep the pin, as is standard procedure. Spencer waltzed in and, behind Esper’s back, apparently offered Trump a compromise. If the president allowed the administrative process to play out, Spencer would make sure that it ended with Gallagher keeping the pin. It was the process that Spencer was worried about, not the result in Gallagher’s particular case.

But … if he was promising Trump a certain result before the review began, then the review would have been a sham. That’s worse for good order and discipline than having Trump issue special exemptions for his hand-picked favorites like Gallagher. If the president does an end-around the Navy’s disciplinary process, well, there’s nothing to stop him — but at least sailors in that case can trust that *if* a disciplinary proceeding is allowed to take place, the result will be fair. Under Spencer’s proposal, they wouldn’t have that assurance. They’d be left to wonder if any particular review was quietly rigged behind the scenes by the brass to ensure an outcome favored by the president.

Note that Spencer doesn’t deny that he made this offer to Trump, that Gallagher would be allowed to retire as a SEAL if POTUS let the Navy do its work. So what am I missing? Did Spencer have something else in mind that would somehow preserve the integrity of the disciplinary review while also … guaranteeing a specific outcome?

As for his point about Trump not understanding the essence of a “warfighter,” that’s simple: There’s more to being an American serviceman than courage and skill, says Spencer. Honor and discipline matter too. Go figure that a guy who reportedly wants three soldiers accused of war crimes to campaign with him next year would have difficulty with that concept:

Despite military and international backlash to Trump’s Nov. 15 clemency—fallout from which cost Navy Secretary Richard Spencer his job on Sunday—Trump believes he has rectified major injustices. Two people tell The Daily Beast they’ve heard Trump talk about how he’d like to have the now-cleared Clint Lorance, Matthew Golsteyn, or Edward Gallagher show up at his 2020 rallies, or even have a moment on stage at his renomination convention in Charlotte next year. Right-wing media have portrayed all three as martyrs brought down by “political correctness” within the military.

“He briefly discussed making it a big deal at the convention,” said one of these sources, who requested anonymity to talk about private conversations. “The president made a reference to the 2016 [convention] and where they brought on-stage heroes” like former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, who refused to execute detained civilians ahead of a devastating Taliban attack.

Lorance was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder. The GOP in the age of Trump is an unusually nihilistic political outfit but having Lorant, Golsteyn, and Gallagher make a surprise appearance at the 2020 convention to cheerlead for a president who thinks pardoning murderers shows “toughness” would take it to the next level. I’d bet good money that it happens.

Someone whom the Daily Beast describes as an “ally of the Trump administration who works on military issues” told them that although he normally scoffs at anti-Trumpers for forever complaining about the president “undermining institutions,” he thinks it’s a fair cop in this case: “This whole thing is a mess and it will undermine good order and discipline in the SEAL community when it is badly needed after a string of incidents involving severe misconduct.” Naturally, there are advocates for other soldiers convicted of crimes who are already lobbying Trump to issue more clemency. Whether the president will be discerning in searching for cases of real injustice or whether he’ll look for renegades whose pardons would signal more “toughness” is unknown right now, but I know how I’d bet. As for what this will do with his relations with top generals, that’s also unknown — but you can imagine how everyone from Esper to SEAL commander Collin Green must feel knowing that Fox host Pete Hegseth’s opinion has more sway with the president than theirs does.

Even before Navy Secretary Richard Spencer’s forced ouster this weekend, a handful of the Pentagon’s highest-ranking officials have been debating just when they would feel compelled to resign over what they see as Trump’s disregard for the chain of command, two current senior officials told POLITICO in recent days. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

“There’s a sense of dejection by senior leaders in the Pentagon, that the president and the secretary of defense are going to side with the loudmouths at Fox News against the reasoned opposition of senior military professionals,” said another Pentagon official with direct knowledge of high-level discussions. “That’s the sense in a nutshell.”…

“I don’t know that Rear Admiral Green will be an effective SEAL commander” now, said Kelly Magsamen, a former assistant secretary of defense who is now at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress. “I am watching to see if he will resign.”

Exit question: Will Gallagher end up replacing Green as SEAL commander or Spencer as Navy secretary?

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