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Trump and the MAGA GOP Are National Security Risks
They should be helping keep America safe in a dangerous world.
OF ALL THE CHALLENGES piling up in the last few weeks, from a looming government shutdown to a new House speaker who is . . . concerning on numerous fronts, national security is the most panic-worthy. The threats we face are alarming—and they include risks we’ve created for ourselves.
High on the list: Donald Trump. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon last week suggested she might grant the former president’s request to postpone his classified documents trial from May 20, 2024, until after the 2024 election. With Trump positioned at this point to win the GOP primary in a gallop, running statistically even with President Joe Biden in national polls, and ahead in swing states, we’re confronting the prospect of a second term won by a president who has already proved he can’t be trusted with national security. A trial is the best chance to get the news media and the electorate laser-focused on the full extent of the risk.
How many will learn in the trial Cannon is overseeing that later, as a private citizen, he allegedly showed what he called a “highly confidential” secret Iran attack plan to a writer and publisher at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey? That he allegedly disclosed highly sensitive information about U.S. nuclear submarines to an Australian billionaire at Mar-a-Lago (who then allegedly spread it to scores of others)? Will it finally sink in that Trump allegedly kept some 100 secret classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, including in a bathroom and on a stage, even after authorities asked for their return?
How many voters know that just last month, Trump boasted on the campaign trail about threatening to abandon NATO’s mutual protection commitment, even if Russia attacked a NATO member? He’s treating convicted January 6th rioters as patriotic heroes and talks repeatedly about pardons for all or most of them. He’s already shown he will pardon his cronies and allies. Does anyone seriously think Trump would allow himself to be tried on the documents charges, or any other federal case, as a second-term president living in the White House?
All those charges would go away. What wouldn’t go away: his loose lips, his dictator pals, and the singular, enormous danger he poses to national security.
This is unfathomable—yet so is what’s going on in the Senate, where Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville is on his ninth month of blockading what’s now nearly 400 military promotions. Why? Because he objects to the Pentagon policy of reimbursing troops for travel if, due to abortion bans adopted recently in many states, they go to other states for reproductive health care. Republican anger at Tuberville finally erupted on the Senate floor last week, and GOP senators scheduled a meeting Tuesday to discuss how to thwart him.
“We are going to look back at this episode and just be stunned at what a national security suicide mission this became,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), said during the heated Wednesday night session. Among the nominees Sullivan tried and failed to advance was Rear Adm. Robert Gaucher, picked to serve as commander of Naval Submarine Forces—the submarines Sullivan said keep Chinese President Xi Jinping “up at night.” When Tuberville objected, as he did to all 61 nominees put forward in the four-hour-plus debate, Sullivan said of Xi, “He is loving this, so is Putin. They are loving it. How dumb can we be, man?”
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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), made a doomed effort to advance Laura Lenderman, nominated to be lieutenant general and deputy commander of the Pacific Air Forces. “Holding her hostage doesn’t help the pro-life cause. It hurts the military,” Graham told Tuberville. “We have courts. If you think they have done something illegal, go to court.”
Graham also made a point that has haunted me throughout this idiotic situation—that Tuberville either doesn’t care or doesn’t get that his stunt, if it spread, could result in utter paralysis of the U.S. government by any senator of any party with any policy beef. “Everybody in this body could find an issue with any administration they don’t agree with. And what we are going to do is open up Pandora’s box,” Graham said. “There is a reason this has not been done this way for a couple hundred years.”
OVER ON THE HOUSE SIDE, meanwhile, newbie Speaker Mike Johnson apparently has faith in his divine right to play games with national security and how we treat our allies, with an Israel-only aid bill that would “offset” the cost with an IRS cut that would actually add billions to the federal deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Never mind that Biden has promised to veto the House bill, and senators are working on a bipartisan aid package for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, Gaza, and the U.S.-Mexican border.
There is substantial support for such broader spending across parties and ideologies, in polls and in Congress. We are not sending U.S. troops to occupy and transform nations. We’re sending money, weaponry, equipment, and intelligence to help Ukraine and Israel defeat brutal invaders and attackers.
That’s hardly the same as America invading both Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 attacks and trying to turn them into Western democracies. Personally, as a onetime Vietnam War protester who privately despaired over the 2003 Iraq war, I still find it astonishing to be aligned with people once called neoconservatives, but I have evolved, as have many of them.
The Iraq and Afghanistan occupations were “fiascos,” foreign policy analyst Max Boot wrote in March, on the twentieth anniversary of the Iraq invasion. “In retrospect, I was wildly overoptimistic about the prospects of exporting democracy by force.” Whatever it meant to be a neocon, he added, “I am a neocon no more.”
The progressive left and isolationist-leaning right look at America’s heightened global leadership and involvement under Biden and see a neocon resurgence, but that’s wrong. While some erstwhile neocons may still be hawks inclined to back direct U.S. involvement in the future, that is not what’s happening now.
We’re not trying to “export democracy by force.” We’re trying to help nations preserve their democracies. Libertarian Robby Soave noted the difference in a wry tweet in February 2022: “I do not think it’s just fine and dandy if Russia invades and conquer its neighbors, so I guess I’m a neocon now.”
Given the perilous state of the world, and a cautious Biden approach that doesn’t involve injecting U.S. troops into either war, neocon is not the right word for Soave or anyone supporting democratic allies under threat. I’d call it an anti-Putin, anti-terrorist “Coalition to Keep America Safe.”
It’s also a way to demonstrate to the world that America is functional, reliable, and a democracy worth emulating. That won’t happen if the MAGA wing of the GOP, from Tuberville and Johnson to Trump and his enablers, continues to hobble the military, compromise U.S. security, and shrink America to just another flawed player in a global game.