Ken’s Take on the World


Tomahawks and Trump

A few days ago, President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike an air base in Syria.  Ostensibly, this was a response to the use of chemical weapons against the civilian populace.  Responses from critics and supporters have been mostly predictable.  Unfortunately, these responses miss crucial points.

 

The Constitutional conundrum:  Critics of the President’s actions point out that he lacks the Constitutional authority to initiate military actions without Congressional approval.  Article I, Section 8 clearly defines the role of Congress in declaring war.  Article II, Section 2, however, vests the authority of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces with the President.  Congress passed the War Powers Act (WPA) to permit a President to initiate military action to immediately protect “vital national interests.”  Since its inception, every President has used this as a justification for carrying out military actions.  President Trump is no different than Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, or Obama in claiming their actions are covered under this provision.  While it may be worthwhile to debate the legal merits of Trump’s justification, it is unlikely (particularly with a Republican Congress) that anything significant will come of this in the form of restricting legislation on a President’s authority under the WPA.  It is inconceivable the President acted against an imminent threat to crucial national interests that prevented him from seeking approval from Congress, as his predecessor did in 2013.  While Republicans in Congress rebuffed President Obama’s request for authorization of military force when President Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens then, it is not clear how Congress would respond to a similar request made by the current President.

 

Moral maladaption:  Republican talking heads claim the President, even if lacking legal justification for launching an attack on Syrian territory, had a moral imperative to take action against the use of chemical weapons.  The President, himself, states that he was moved by the images of small children killed by the heinous use of such banned weapons.  I do not doubt that he, like the rest of us, was indeed moved by the horrific imagery of babies, children, women, and men suffering the effects of what appears to be the nerve agent, Sarin.  To suggest President Trump was not touched by these images is unfair to him.  We actually expect our President to act as a moral leader, promoting our values as a civilized nation.  A moral leader, however, would likely have sought the support of our allies in formulating a strong and clear message of condemnation on the use of chemical weapons rather than appearing to act impulsively, and alone, in carrying out an act of war that violates international norms.  There is an argument to be made that it is actually immoral for the President to order the launch of military actions that could lead to civilian casualties.  There is plenty of history of the United States, accidentally, or intentionally, launching military strikes that led to the deaths of many more women, babies, and children than the recent chemical attacks have caused.  A stronger counterargument to his supporters suggesting that Trump had a moral obligation to act would be to note that President Trump has repeatedly attempted to block all refugees from Syria entering the United States.  Perhaps, his rationale for striking the air base in Syria would ring less hollow had his ongoing efforts pertaining to the Syrian people not been construed as hostile to them and ambivalent toward the Syrian dictator.

 

Pocketbook penumbra:  To those who have suggested the President authorized use of Tomahawk missiles because he owns stock in Raytheon, the manufacturer, just stop!!  Of all the reasons one might consider for why the President selected this option, this is not going to be one of them.  While I have stated on multiple occasions that Donald Trump acts only in the interest of Donald Trump, even this claim is ridiculous to me.  Now, I will state that I am disappointed, make that disgusted, that with nearly $90 million in military weaponry launched into Syria the other day we did not even negatively impact the capabilities of the Syrian government to continue its air campaign against rebels for even a single day.  It is unclear whether we even sent an effective message deterring the regime from future use of chemical weapons in these strikes.

 

Donald’s doubletalk:  We know the current President changes his positions constantly.  We know that he lies and misleads.  In 2013, Donald Trump strongly opposed any military action in Syria.  He demanded then-President Obama seek approval from Congress prior to undertaking ANY military action in Syria even after it was confirmed the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.  Why, then, would President Trump launch military strikes in Syria without prior notification of, and approval from, Congress.  President Obama actually DID seek approval from Congress to take action against Syria.  What, from a legal perspective, has changed in the interim?  Nothing.  To those who suggest these actions made him appear “Presidential,” need I remind you of comments made regarding the President’s State of the Union Address in February?  Within 36 hours, he had demonstrated that he had not made the “Presidential Pivot” that people on both sides of the political spectrum have implored him to make since gaining the nomination last July.

 

Donald’s distractions:  The Trump Administration has been an epic lesson in incompetence, confusion, unethical behavior, obfuscation, and, perhaps, worse.  From a series of gaffes involving our allies, his inability to articulate a clear strategy on any policy position, allegations of collusion with an adversarial government, basement-level poll numbers, and infighting within his inner circle of advisors, it has been suggested the President, perhaps, sought a distraction that might cast him in a more favorable light.  If this is the case, it is reprehensible and inexcusable.  A more benign reason for ordering military strikes in the manner he did is the lack of competent advice from advisors who lack the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to more carefully coordinate these strikes to produce greater effect and reduce potential negative consequences.  This, too, is unacceptable.  This failure in competence has led to a lack of support from our allies and jeopardized the safety of US service members, particularly in the Syrian theater of operations where we are currently active.  Despite prior notification of the Russian government which minimized damage to Russian military assets at the airbase, the missile strikes have led to amped-up rhetoric from Russia including statements that Russia will no longer advise US military officials regarding military operations which may lead to inadvertent US military casualties at the hands of Russian military munitions.

 

The current President has positioned the United States on a very dangerous path with his reckless missile strikes on Syria.  The strikes appear to be merely symbolic and provided no tactical or strategic gains for the US.  They did not hamper Assad’s abilities to carry out attacks, including chemical weapons attacks, on his people.  They pushed Russia into a potentially stronger alliance with the Assad regime.  His disregard for the Constitution continues his trend of undermining our institutions of democracy.  Along with his increased use of military action, including drone strikes, that have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the Middle East, he diminishes the safety of deployed US forces and the security of US citizens throughout the world.  A US Administration has traditionally been a stabilizing feature of the global community.  Under President Trump, this is no longer the case.  The President, and his Administration (with certain exceptions) have injected a level of uncertainty and instability that is not only foolish but is also extremely dangerous.

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Memorial Day 2016

On this Memorial Day, Americans gather together for barbeques and get-together’s with friends and family.  For many, it means a shorter work-week which is always nice.  For many families and friends this is a special day in which we come together to honor a loved one who paid the ultimate price in service to our nation.  Across the country, parades are held and wreaths are presented.  Graveyards in every state serve as the final resting place for those who gave their lives in combat zones across the globe in every war the United States has been involved in throughout history.

 

This is a tribute to a special group of military personnel.  For more than two centuries, one group of military members fought and died for their nation while hiding a very deep secret.  Gay and lesbian service members have fought, and died, in nearly every single conflict since the founding of our nation.  Because of the oppression and hostility they would face, including imprisonment, harassment, threats, and violence, these men and women, no less brave than their peers, were forced to live secret double lives.  Brave fighting men and women while in uniform and extremely discreet, closeted gay people in public.  To do otherwise put them at risk of discovery and other negative consequences.  Those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice are known only to their family and friends.  Until now.

 

While the majority of lesbian and gay service members who were killed in battle throughout our history are unknown, the lifting of the military ban on openly gay service members has allowed the stories of contemporary service members to become public.  More importantly, marriage equality has permitted gay husbands and lesbian wives to collect pension and other benefits when their life mate is killed on the battlefield.

 

US Army Major Alan Rogers (09/21/1967 to 01/27/2008) was killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a patrol in January of 2008 in Afghanistan.  He was the first known combat fatality know to be gay.  In 2005, his Master’s thesis discussed the failure of the military policy of, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT).  His family states that they were unaware of his sexual orientation before he was killed.  Statisticians have estimated that at least 200 combat fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operation were lesbian or gay.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-belkin/gay-soldier-killed-in-afg_b_475559.html

 

Corporal Andrew Charles Wilfahrt is the first known gay service member killed in combat since the repeal of DADT.  He came out to his parents at 16 and at age 29 decided to join the Army.  He was 31 years old when he was killed by an IED on February 27, 2011.  He played piano and had scored a perfect score on an Army aptitude test. http://thefallen.militarytimes.com/army-cpl-andrew-c-wilfahrt/5837138 http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/07/02/gay.soldier.andrew.wilfahrt/

 

US Air Force Major Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen was married to her wife in 2013.  One of the first lesbian Air Force members to marry in uniform.  She was 31 when she, along with five other Air Force intelligence members, on December 21, 2015 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.  She is believed to be the first openly gay woman killed in combat.  http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-woman-among-six-americans-killed-in-afghan-attack/363317681/ http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/12/23/us-military-brings-home-six-airmen-killed-in-afghanistan.html

Surely, there are many more stories of gay and lesbian service members who have lost their lives in service to their nation on battlefields around the world.  Not to mention the number of gay men and women who have been wounded in battle including the first US casualty of the Iraq war, Staff Sergeant Eric Alva.  This Memorial Day, as we remember all of those who died fighting for the United States, let us honor those, too, who fought a second battle in silence and secrecy against the very nation they served.