Over just a few days last week, President Trump and his allies stepped up attacks on Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the campaign’s connections to Russia. They tried to push Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of office. They thought out loud about whether the president can pardon himself.
This all points to the same conclusion: Mr. Trump is willing to deal a major blow to the rule of law — and the American Republic — in order to end an independent investigation into his Russia ties.
.. In their first years in office, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Viktor Orban in Hungary claimed that they wanted to fix, rather than cripple, democratic institutions. Even as it became clear that these strongmen sought to consolidate power, most of their opponents told themselves that they were saving their courage for the right moment. By the time the full extent of the danger had become incontrovertible, it was too late to mount an effective resistance.
.. But in other respects the United States is already well on the way to what I have, in my academic work, called “democratic deconsolidation.” Mr. Trump is increasingly emulating the playbook of popularly elected strongmen who have done deep, lasting damage to their countries’ democratic institutions.
.. around 40 percent of voters — and some 80 percent of Republicans — approve of his performance. A number of Republican senators and congressmen have reportedly objected to Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Sessions and voted against parts of his legislative agenda, but most have yet to oppose him publicly.
.. If Mr. Trump fires Mr. Mueller, Congress can ask him to continue his investigation under the auspices of the legislative branch.
And if Mr. Trump pardons himself, disregards court rulings or blatantly oversteps the boundaries of his legitimate authority in some other way, Congress should impeach him.
.. There may never be a time when we know for sure that this decision, today, will determine whether the American republic lives or dies.
Most recently, Mr. Trump last week announced that transgender Americans would be barred from military service — catching the Pentagon by surprise and upending a long-running internal review process. After each of these episodes, stories leak about how the generals were either outgunned by advisers like Stephen Bannon or, more often, just left out of the loop.
At the margins, the generals may dial back their boss’s impulses, and occasionally stand up to Mr. Trump in small ways, as Mr. Mattis did when he declined to praise Mr. Trump in a televised cabinet meeting in June. And there are small victories: Last week, General McMaster managed to remove the Flynn holdover Derek Harvey, the Middle East senior adviser and an Iran hawk, from the security council.
But it’s unlikely that the generals will consistently rein in Mr. Trump at the strategic level. Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and therefore, on paper at least, the president’s primary military liaison and adviser, rarely has one-on-one meetings with Mr. Trump. Mr. Kelly, a former Marine general who had served as his secretary of homeland security and whom many had hoped would temper the president on immigration, apparently shares Mr. Trump’s policy views and seems disinclined to challenge him. It’s unlikely he will change now that he’s chief of staff.
.. In the mid-1950s, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington observed that American military officers had evolved into a disciplined and largely apolitical group of professionals. He outlined a separation of roles: military obedience to civilian leaders in areas of strategic or political discretion, and civilian deference to the military on operational matters.
This was the norm until after Vietnam, when numerous scholars conducting post-mortems on the war — including, coincidentally, General McMaster in his book “Dereliction of Duty” — concluded that military commanders should have challenged civilian leaders more aggressively.
And over time, that’s what happened. As the Pentagon gained a broader post-Sept. 11 mandate, branching into what were once considered law enforcement and diplomatic arenas, the line between the civilian and military division blurred. Combatant commanders’ assertiveness peaked when a beleaguered President George W. Bush looked to Gen. David Petraeus to extricate the United States from the Iraq quagmire by way of the “surge” in 2007.
.. Unlike Mr. Obama, who took responsibility for his administration’s military actions, Mr. Trump has publicly scapegoated the military for politically damaging episodes, such as the errant February raid in Yemen in which one Navy SEAL and up to 30 civilians died. He has also been openly at odds with Mr. Mattis over torture, budget cuts at the State Department and climate change.
.. General McMaster admitted that Mr. Trump went into his private meeting with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at last month’s G-20 meeting without an agenda — indeed, without General McMaster.
.. So where will the check on Mr. Trump’s incompetent foreign policy come from? Not the State Department, under siege and led, for now, by the underqualified Rex Tillerson. Only Congress, on a bipartisan basis, can constrain Mr. Trump’s recklessness and ineptitude.
Societies often go to great lengths to separate war from peace. Wars are declared, sometimes with elaborate ritual. Soldiers wear uniforms and are part of specialized hierarchical organizations. Battlefields are often delineated. Maintaining this distinction is important because what is permissible in wartime is often prohibited in peacetime. Preventing the rules of war from infecting views of moral conduct in times of peace is essential for preserving civilization.
.. Captured combatants in wars between countries can be detained without charge or trial until the end of the armed conflict. In peacetime, by contrast, law enforcement rules allow the use of lethal force only as a last resort to stop an imminent lethal threat, and detentions generally can be sustained only after charges have been filed and a trial has taken place.
.. US soldiers now undertake public health programs, agricultural reform efforts, small business development projects, and training in the rule of law. This expanding mandate, as Brooks shows, has enabled the Pentagon to dramatically increase its budget
.. The militarization of these efforts has contributed to the “shrinking of humanitarian space” in which aid workers give assistance; they are increasingly endangered because they are perceived as military assets.
.. Other governments are developing or purchasing this technology as well. Even ISIS reportedly has attacked with simple drones.
.. if targeted killing is permitted under an expansive rationale for the “war against terrorism,” there may be no need for drones at all. Assassinations, poisoning, car bombs, “accidents”—there are plenty of ways to kill an “enemy combatant” once that characterization is accepted.
.. she suggests “recognizing that war and peace are not binary opposites, but lie along a continuum.” The task then, she concludes, is to ask not what the law requires, since the law’s answer depends on the difficult-to-resolve dispute over the definition of war or peace. What matters instead is what is right, based on our values.
.. The opponents of stronger limits on governmental powers to kill or detain are now likely to come from both the White House and the Kremlin. Even Theresa May, the new British prime minister, vowed at the most recent Conservative Party conference “never again” to “let those activist, left-wing human rights lawyers harangue and harass the bravest of the brave—the men and women of [Britain’s] armed forces.”
.. with countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates today all involved in active efforts against armed or terrorist groups outside their territories, any weakening of the rules would give those countries greater latitude too—a frightening thought.
Many Israeli women see combat roles as a springboard to the top echelons of the military, politics and the corporate world. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other senior politicians have fought in special forces units.