Wednesday Nov 17 2021
Web Desk

New memo shows Trump's plans to turn military into 'personal goon squad'

Web Desk
Former US president Donald Trump (L) and Johnny McEntee, Trump’s director of presidential personnel. — Reuters
Former US president Donald Trump (L) and Johnny McEntee, Trump’s director of presidential personnel. — Reuters

An opinion piece in the Washington Post has described the contents of a memo unveiled by an ABC News reporter that shows former US president Donald Trump "determined to turn the military into his personal goon squad".

The author, Max Boot, begins by saying that he wrongly estimated Mark T Esper, Trump’s fourth and second-to-last defense secretary, to have been too "accommodating" of Trump.

He had noted in an earlier piece: “He did not vocally protest pardons for war criminals, the use of the defense budget to build a border wall or the withdrawal of troops from Germany.”

Boot wrote that new evidence, however, demonstrates "how much Trump and his henchmen loathed Esper" and that Esper is "rising" in his estimation.

The memo, written by Johnny McEntee, Trump’s director of presidential personnel, and outed by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl, outlined 14 reasons why Esper should be removed.

"That document was dated October 19, 2020. Three weeks later Esper was fired by a Trump tweet," notes Boot.

The Post author goes on to state that McEntee's memo was "sinister" in nature, noting that a "30-year-old of no professional or intellectual distinction, whose path to power was carrying Trump’s bags, was making the case for getting rid of a senior Cabinet officer for insufficient loyalty to the president".

"This revealing and chilling document deserves to be read not as a historical curiosity but as a terrible portent of what could be in store if Trump wins another term. He appears determined to turn the military into his personal goon squad," says Boot.

Listing McEntee's complaints in the memo, the article says that Esper had “approved the promotion of Lt Col [Alexander] Vindman, the start [sic] witness in the sham impeachment inquiry, who told Congress that the President’s call with Ukraine ‘undermined US national security.’”

Boot says that although the veracity of Vindman's testimony was never cast into doubt, "yet Trump, acting through McEntee, seemed intent on carrying out what Vindman described in a Post op-ed as 'a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation' for daring to tell the truth".

Another reason provided for Esper's ouster was: “Publicly opposed the President’s direction to utilise American force to put down riots just outside the White House”.

Boot notes that this refers to Esper’s "brave decision" back in June 2020 to oppose Trump's wish to deploy active-duty troops to Black Lives Matter protests.

The article notes that Esper's decision was motivated by a "bizarre" photo op in Lafayette Square which he and Gen. Mark A. Milley had been coaxed into by Trump, after the area was cleared of peaceful protesters.

"Milley subsequently apologised and reminded military personnel that they are pledged to defend the Constitution, including 'the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly'," wrote Boots.

This, he notes, was presumably what sparked another of McEntee’s grievances against Esper: “Has failed to exercise oversight of the Joint Staff.”

According to Boot, McEntee further cited Esper's action to have the Confederate flag removed from military installations.

"He was upset, moreover, that the defense secretary had ruled out attacks 'on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict escalated, despite the President wanting to keep that option open',” he writes.

Attacking cultural sites should constitute as a war crime — but, according to McEntee, Esper "should have been willing to commit a war crime at Trump’s direction", Boots adds.

McEntee also criticised Esper for spending too much time focused on competition with Russia. "Left unstated was that Trump seems to hero-worship Russian President Vladimir Putin, who helped him win the 2016 election," says Boots.

He said, citing the memo, that Esper’s other transgressions of Trumpism included insufficient support for Trump’s capricious and discriminatory “transgender ban”; contradicting “the President in SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s case” (Trump reversed Gallagher’s demotion despite accusations he had committed war crimes); and dissenting from “the President’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany.” (McEntee gave a new Pentagon appointee working for Esper’s replacement, Christopher Miller, an isolationist to-do list that consisted of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Germany.)

Boot adds: "The most damning and telling grievance against Esper was near the bottom of this pathetic document: 'When he assumed his role, he vowed to be apolitical'."

The author explains that being apolitical is normally an essential quality for leading the armed forces, which is why Biden chose retired Gen Lloyd Austin as defense secretary and President Barack Obama decided to retain Republican Robert M Gates in the post.

"But Trump tried to destroy the professional, apolitical ethos of the armed forces — and if given the opportunity, he will almost certainly do so again," writes Boot.