Trump, the SEALs, and Eddie Gallagher: Defiance and rumors of defiance

Trump, the SEALs, and Eddie Gallagher: Defiance and rumors of defiance
Naval Special Warfare insignia: the Trident, as worn on camouflage utilities. Via USNI blog

It’s troubling watching what we’re told the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command is doing; i.e., openly defying the president on a question of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s status.

At least, it looks troubling, if that’s what is actually happening.  As regards the egregious public defiance, I’m not so sure it is.  It’s possible we’re being misled by reports that are either outright fabrications, or the product of politicized “leaking” that pushes a one-sided story line.  Such “leaking” could as well come from the Pentagon as from anywhere else in Washington.  I would hope it’s not coming from uniformed military personnel.  But it could be.

(There’s a report that the secretary of the Navy, who commented publicly on Friday that the board to be convened in Gallagher’s case should go forward, said he would resign if President Trump overruled a Navy decision on Gallagher.  There’s also a report I’ve seen no sourcing for that Secretary Richard Spencer denies saying he would resign.)

So we should tread warily on this.  It could be that the responsible parties in the Navy intended to do this discreetly and without fanfare.

Trending: People want to know who’s delivering pallets of bricks to protest sites across the U.S.

That’s not just untethered speculation.  There are some examples of non-credible reporting in just the last few days that suggest we really do need to doubt and question the supposed “facts” of incendiary, anonymously sourced stories.  One is a pair of reports about Rep. Devin Nunes and his probe into the information – from Ukraine – about Ukrainian collusion with U.S. Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign.  Nunes has said he intends to sue both media outlets, CNN and the Daily Beast, because much of what they cite as “fact” is false, and in some cases defamatory.

The other is a peculiar report from the New York Times that the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the FBI Russia probe concludes that Joseph Mifsud is not an FBI informant.

To begin with, there’s no reason to think the FBI ever represented Mifsud as an FBI informant.  That would be a superb reason why the IG report would offer no conclusion about whether he was or not. It would be immaterial to the IG’s investigation.

But in any case, something like that is not a conclusion the IG would put in a report about the behavior of FBI personnel and their performance in the probe.  It’s outside the scope of the IG’s investigative charter.  It’s not his call to pass judgment on what Mifsud’s standing was.

The only thing the IG has to know is what relationship, if any, the FBI said Joseph Mifsud had to the operation.

If the IG, Michael Horowitz, thinks FBI personnel may have been misrepresenting that relationship – that is what he would say in the report.  He’d couch it in terms of what the FBI employees said or did.  He would not offer a conclusion that Mifsud was not an FBI informant.  That wouldn’t be his remit.

And if he felt compelled to discuss the matter in those terms – i.e., whether Mifsud was an FBI informant, about which he could raise questions and report points of evidence, but not draw conclusions – he would certainly redact any such discussion in releasing the report to the public.

Both the NYT article on the IG report and the challenged reports on Nunes have a very “off” ring to them.  I don’t take them at face value.

If I hadn’t watched the mainstream media misrepresent what was happening in the Schiff hearings for the last week and a half, it might be harder to be that categorically dismissive.  But I have witnessed the MSM’s determination to present only one, highly misleading side of that story.  It’s a false representation, given the easily accessible video evidence of what the witnesses have said under questioning by the Republicans on the committee.  Yet the mainstream media are crafting a narrative as if none of that questioning has happened – as if there is no public record of the witnesses acknowledging, under oath, the opposite of what the media and the committee Democrats claim they established.

In this uncomfortable information environment, I don’t assume we’re getting a straight story about what’s going on inside the Navy’s command staffs.  If we are, that means one bad thing.  If we’re not, that means another.

The latter case would be bad enough.  If we’re not getting a straight story, that would mean there is hostile “leaking” meant to create an environment of ugly, damaging distrust between the commander-in-chief and his commanders.

The former case, on the other hand, would mean there is a real basis for that distrust.

And if senior officers of the Navy are really persisting in publicly tilting against the president in a case like this, they are grossly in the wrong.

I don’t say that because I harbor no skepticism about the Eddie Gallagher case.  That’s not the situation at all.  The charges against Gallagher are serious, and the outcome of his court-martial bizarre.  (Another service member undermined the basis of the prosecution’s case by claiming, in eleventh-hour testimony, that he had effectively killed the terrorist Gallagher was accused of murdering.)

I can understand why the Navy higher-ups find the whole situation unsatisfactory.  There are also, meanwhile, compelling accusations of misconduct by the prosecution, which militate against any presumption in favor of the Navy brass.

And it’s not clear to me that POTUS has made the situation better with his comments and intervention. There’s a ragged mess here, no doubt about it.

But all that said, POTUS owns this process.  He is the only person on the planet elected by the American people to own it.  It is his call.  There is no remedy for disagreeing with him in boards convened by flag officers.  Those boards report to him, not the other way around.

The SEAL community can socially ostracize Gallagher all it wants, and I figure that’s up to them.  But POTUS has the final say on whether Gallagher keeps his Trident.

Note here that the Navy’s prerogative of convening the board is not in question.  The Navy can certainly do so.  What’s at issue is doing it with noisy public notification, as if to take a dramatic stance against the president.  The Navy Special Warfare commander could have done it quietly, and if the board pulled Gallagher’s Trident, could have let Trump escalate a public confrontation if that was his choice.  We don’t know that Trump would have; he might have been satisfied to restore Gallagher’s Trident just as quietly.  About both actions, the entire SEAL community would have been well aware, even without publicity.  That situation would be far from ideal, but it wouldn’t constitute an open breach.

If there are Naval officers with a purpose of trying to embarrass President Trump by forcing him to publicly overrule them, why are they doing that?  For one thing, I think they badly misread the mood of the public.  It’s not the president who will be embarrassed.  Even people who don’t necessarily see Gallagher as a hero don’t want to see the military openly maneuvering against the president.  That will not sell.

If it sells anywhere, it will be on limited swaths of the coasts (and presumably faculty lounges and news rooms in other parts of America).  In the vast rest of the country, it won’t play any better than it would have if the Army had publicly tilted against Obama for lionizing Bowe Bergdahl.

As for the effect of this episode on good order and discipline, two points.  One, open defiance of the commander-in-chief from the top ranks of the Navy cannot possibly reinforce good order and discipline.

Two, the exotic social-engineering efforts in the military over the last 25 years, which have included painfully divisive lawsuits, sometimes unexecutable behavioral standards, and enforced demonization of the beliefs of millions of ordinary Americans – including service members – have been at least as detrimental to good order and discipline.

These efforts were implemented by elected presidents, and the military did its best to comply with them, with very limited and temperate public pushback.

That’s how it has to be.  And that’s how it has to be with the current administration as well.  The caterwauling that Trump has intervened improperly in the Gallagher case sits very badly next to the pervasive interventions of previous administrations in deckplate-level order, discipline, and behavioral and professional standards.

Specious, situational concern about order and discipline looks especially cheap on commentators who never cared about it at all until they saw it as something to denigrate Trump with.  Talk to the hand; Trump didn’t start this trend.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.