Given all we know about Donald Trump personally and the authoritarian instincts we’ve seen him display during his tenure as president it’s not unreasonable to speculate that, given the opportunity, he would happily crown himself president for life.
Thankfully, our democratic institutions have blunted his ability to seize total unilateral power for himself. He’s inflicted massive and perhaps irreparable damage to our Republic but we still have an opportunity to vote him out this November and restore the rule of law to the White House.
Even with such confidence in our system’s ability to weather Trump’s illiberal nature, we must still remain vigilant so that we can condemn and oppose his more sinister overreaches. Foreign Policy is now reporting on just such an overreach.
Officials have revealed that Trump has decided to send an administration ally to the Pentagon to fill a crucial policy position and there are concerns that the move is aimed primarily at weeding out civilian employees who lack sufficient loyalty.
The dispatched ally in question, Michael Cutrone, has served as part of Vice President’s Mike Pence’s national security team for three years and is slated to become principal deputy assistant secretary for international security affairs. His predecessor left the role last year after serving in a temporary capacity.
Officials are worried that Cutrone’s arrival and possible purging of personnel could weaken the Department of Defense and make it harder for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to do his job properly.
“He is pushing to replace and remove civilians in OSD that are not aligned with the White House. Esper has no say in who the key people are going into senior positions,” a senior administration official said of the Office of the Secretary of Defense to Foreign Policy.
Pentagon officials are fearful that more appointees will be replaced by Trump loyalists until it becomes impossible for the DoD to argue against ill-conceived or poorly designed policy directives from the White House. Each new Trump loyalist pumped into the Pentagon makes it less and less an independent organ of the United States dedicated to protecting the American people and more and more an echo chamber blindly obedient to the president’s worst ideas.
“Points of resistance to really bad policy ideas keep evaporating one after the other,” said Bilal Saab, a former Pentagon senior advisor.
The appointment of Cutrone is part of a broader effort to bring the DoD under Donald Trump’s heel and dovetails with the methodical removal of appointees seen as allies of the former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a man who has criticized Trump and left his Cabinet position over deep disagreements with the president’s military leadership.
“It’s becoming a bit of a purge,” former Pentagon official Jim Townsend revealed. “Some of these true believers … they might not know how to work with the bureaucracy, they might not know the issues as well, and they’re feeling the pressure from the bosses,” he added.
The president is the commander-in-chief, not a dictator. He makes the ultimate military decisions for the United States, but at the same time, the military relies on a certain degree of autonomy to do its job. The Pentagon is staffed with experts in their fields and removing them on the basis of petty partisan loyalties is a recipe for a weaker Department of Defense.
As in all things, Donald Trump is putting his own political interests over the safety of the American people.
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