Donald Trump seems intent on using the military against his countrymen to quell the nationwide upsurge against the killing of a black by a white policeman. Like his security network, the recently bunkered President of the United States of America has betrayed an almost revolting sense of calculated malevolence.
Whether or not the White House has its way, the Pentagon chief has been exceptionally assertive by shooting down the proposal. This must rank as an extraordinary clash between the US military and its Commander- in-Chief.
There are significant signs that the protests, ignited by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, against the establishment in an election year have ebbed for now. It is pretty obvious that Mr Trump has been driven by the belief that America’s racial divisions may help his re-election campaign, badly damaged by his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rightly has it been remarked that “nothing can be ruled out with this President”. It thus comes about that the Head of State has already given a foretaste to Americans of what he might do. In Washington this week, he mobilised the military police, the 82nd Airborne Division, an army Black Hawk helicopter, in an awesome display of force against what he called “domestic terror” and promised to use “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers”.
Was the exercise partially dramatised? For, accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, dressed in battle fatigues, Mr Trump staged a Bible-waving photo opportunity. Such posturings were so shocking that they sparked a rare political backlash within the military and beyond.
The defence secretary, Mark Esper, who had earlier called US cities a “battlespace”, backed away from using force. His predecessor James Mattis said Mr Trump was the first President in his lifetime who was a divider, not a uniter. Gen Milley, who three years ago expressed support for “disciplined disobedience” for the sake of a “higher purpose”, issued an order to uphold equality, freedom of speech and the right to dignity.
In the past, Trump aides have been silent, often shamefully. The latest development marks an overdue change. Infatuated with military and political strongmen, President Trump sides with authoritarian fellow- Presidents, pre-eminently Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte. He has supported the Tiananmen repression and tends to praise violent military officers. It is incredible that the US President seeks the killing of his own people for political advantage.
This is the painstaking reality in the USA today as he battles to retain power. Historically and more basically, the American military has overthrown tyrannies. Equally, it has made the world more dangerous, as in Vietnam and Iraq. In the civil war of the 1860s, the military preserved the Union at terrible cost. Since then, the US military has been kept well out of domestic politics. The law places firm restrictions on military action within the United States itself.