During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Candidate Trump boasted of his respect for our military forces and his determination to re-build the military to be the “finest in the world,” after what he claimed was a dismantling of the military under Obama. That was red meat to his base and he drew thunderous applause at campaign rallies. (Reality check: the decline in readiness during the Obama Administration was primarily caused by the sequestration of military spending, a budget-balancing attempt that was equally supported by Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.)
So, how has that worked out so far? Not well. I could cite dozens of policy decisions, as well as individual slights to military members and their families, but I will discuss the latest two policy proposals he has Tweeted or spoken about in press conferences.
Return to the sequestration of military spending during the Obama Administration
After getting a $700B increase in Defense spending for FY 2018, Trump now proposes that perhaps the Pentagon could fund the $25B shortfall in the amount that Congress has appropriated for the wall, a diversion of resources that equals the sequestrations during the Obama Administration that he blames for doing so much damage to military readiness. (Another reality check: $25B will not build the wall. It is a down-payment on building the wall that will mostly fund repairing and improving existing wall segments.)
So, is Trump’s spending plan for the military more pro-military than during the sequestrations during the Obama Administration? Only if you believe his smoke and mirrors rhetoric, such as claiming that the wall is a matter of national security and is now the mission of the Defense Department and not the Border Patrol. Disregard that there is no authorization nor appropriation passed by Congress for the DOD to construct the wall.
However, the point is moot and it will never happen. Trump, with his usual ignorance of Federal government operations and the budgeting processes, is apparently blissfully unaware of the Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA), 31 U.S.C. Section 1341. Based on Article I of the U.S. Constitution, the law provides for criminal penalties for any Federal official who obligates money not appropriated by Congress or who diverts money from a Congressional appropriation to another purpose. It has been on the books in one form or another since 1870 when Congress moved to end the financial abuses of the Civil War.
Divert combat forces to civilian law enforcement missions
This week Trump has moved further into diminishing the military by proposing to deploy military combat forces to guard the southern border. We have seen this movie before when Bill Clinton tried it, ostensibly to interdict drug trafficking.
It was an unmitigated disaster. Border Patrol statistics from that period showed that the military deployments had little measurable effect on lowering the number of illegal border crossings. Worse, the most notable incident of the deployment was when a team of U.S. Marines, operating one mile inside the U.S. border at night, shot and killed an 18-year-old native-born U.S. citizen who was tending a goat herd in south Texas. Worse, the teenager did not immediately die of his wounds, but bled to death while the Marines failed to summon medical attention as the Border Patrol would have done if they had shot him in the first place.
The Marines involved claimed that they were returning defensive fire after the goat herder fired a .22LR rifle three times at them. But the autopsy report found that he had been shot in the side and was facing 90 degrees away from the Marines when he fired, most likely to scare off coyotes threatening his herd.
The investigation concluded that he most likely never knew that the concealed Marines were even there. (One more reality check: the Posse Comitias Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1835, another reform passed after the Civil War, prohibits the use of Federal military forces for enforcement of civil law on U.S. soil except in cases of riot or rebellion where a declared national emergency is in force. Under the law, military forces conducting other security missions can stop and question people but cannot arrest them or use force except in self-defense.)
This experience provides important lessons to be considered before deploying military forces to civilian police missions. First, you must understand the training and mental conditioning of military combat units. They are not police or Border Patrol. They are combat units whose instinct and training are to attack and destroy with violence when a legitimate military target is detected. When they perceive the enemy is present, they don’t disclose themselves and engage in discussion. They shoot to kill.
Second, there is the larger issue of conditioning military units for peacekeeping or border security roles and then re-conditioning them for combat when they are rotated. If a military unit can survive the transition to border security without killing innocent civilians, it then must be re-acclimated before it can be ready for a combat rotation.
Several Defense Department experts on the subject have maintained that it requires a minimum of three-to-four months of intensive individual and collective training before a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) can be fit to return to the overseas deployment rotation. Couple that with the time spent on the southern border and tell us how the remaining over-taxed combat units with shortened home-station dwell periods will take up the slack?
Does this keep Donald Trump awake at night? I really doubt it because he is not pro-military and doesn’t care about our military forces, only how he can use them to circumvent Congress and the Constitution to advance his political agenda and accomplish his empty and unworkable campaign promises.
That is an impeachable offense.
Also from Bearing Drift: Special Proclamation Will Send National Guard to Southern Border