While the U.S. military was founded on the concept of civilian leadership, President Donald Trump’s latest order gives the Pentagon presidential powers.
The New York Times reports that Trump has just given the Pentagon full authority to carry out counter-terrorism missions, reversing longstanding U.S. policy of presidents being the final decider of whether or not to conduct a lethal attack on foreign soil.
The new decision by the Trump administration gives military commanders extra leeway to carry out missions in order to achieve a broader military goal agreed upon by the President, as opposed to needing approval for each strike and raid on a case-by-case basis.
Typically under the Obama administration, drone strikes and covert airstrikes required the direct approval of the president, given the high risk of civilian casualties and blowback against the U.S. from local populations. But under the new rule granting the Pentagon greater oversight, it’s possible that military leaders will more aggressively pursue targets with less regard to collateral damage.
In 2015, President Obama personally signed off on the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital after being told it was a Taliban target. The bombing resulted in the deaths of more than two dozen doctors, volunteers, patients, and staff. While Obama later apologized for the bombing, the community of Kunduz and Doctors Without Borders were still reeling. Trump’s latest decision would absolve the executive branch of any responsibility or accountability for future incidents like the aforementioned bombing.
How General H.R. McMaster — whom Trump appointed as National Security Adviser following the resignation of Michael Flynn — will navigate rival centers of power within the White House that have their own deep-seated views on national security policy remains to be seen. But McMaster’s immediate focus, however, is making good on Trump’s vow during his speech to a joint session of Congress to “demolish and destroy” ISIS. It stands to reason that more high-risk strikes will take place with the Pentagon not needing presidential approval in the future.
Steven E. Johnson is a Mississippi-based author who covers racial justice and political issues for the Resistance Report. You can contact him at stevejlive at gmail dot com.