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A Soft Coup in the Offing?

In the wake of the latest and most serious misdeed [1] by President Trump, I re-read this op-ed [2] by a former Minuteman III nuclear launch officer about why it is imperative that Trump not become President:

During my years in the Air Force, I worked over 300 nuclear “alerts”—24-hour shifts 100 feet below the Wyoming tundra.  I sat at my post believing, through both the Bush and Obama administrations, that the president was fundamentally rational and would never ask me to do my terrible duty. Not unless the country was in the direst of national emergencies.

With Trump as president, the young men and women who are assigned to our nuclear forces will have no such assurances.

I am a Republican and I have long worked in Republican politics. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I believe my party’s nominee for president is mentally unfit to assume this heavy responsibility.

But he does have that formal responsibility. And the individuals directly below him in the chain of command have had ample time to accumulate the evidence that he is not capable of assuming it.

I have been inclined for some time to assume that they have made their own contingency plans for insubordination, just in case the worst proves true. Indeed, I assumed that when General James Mattis took the job as Secretary of Defense [3], he did so substantially in order to interpose his body and his mind between the president and the country’s fate, and thereby remove the need for a more fateful decision down the road.

In the wake of the most recent revelations, though, I wonder whether they are thinking about how to put those plans into action in a more thorough if less dramatic fashion.

That’s the theme of my latest column at The Week [4]:

From here on, if it was not already the case, at every level of the chain of command, individuals will question whether communicating information up the chain in the normal manner could fatally compromise a mission. Since such intelligence is frequently the basis for military action, the same is true of military communications with the commander in chief.

One should assume that foreign governments are making the same assessment, and taking action to curtail their cooperation with American intelligence so as to protect their own national security. The mutual trust that is necessary for intelligence cooperation will have been compromised very severely. . . .

America’s military and intelligence services are therefore faced with a difficult dilemma. The only way to preserve America’s assets will be to routinize the violation of the chain of command by cordoning off the president from information that he properly needs to make informed decisions. Moreover, in order to reassure foreign allies, military and intelligence services will need to show their willingness to violate the chain of command in this fashion. It will need to become an open secret that the president of the United States is, in effect, no longer the president.

The threat this poses to America’s democratic and constitutional system should not be minimized.

The headline refers to a “coup,” which sounds alarmist, but we might not even notice a smooth glide into a world in which the military and intelligence services make policy and give the president a “recommendation” to “approve” rather than being given options to choose between based on the president’s own policy directives. After all, we barely notice anymore that Congress has no role in war-making, or that the president is no longer bound by treaty or international law.

If the men in uniform quietly moved to protect us from our chosen leader, we might find the knowledge that there are grownups in charge to be comforting, at least in contrast to the alternative. Indeed, if America were a foreign country, our intelligence services would probably already be sounding out their military about options.

Anyway, read the whole thing there [4], and weep.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "A Soft Coup in the Offing?"

#1 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 16, 2017 @ 8:31 am

I voted for Hillary because she was the only one thing standing between Trump and our nuclear arsenal.

Sadly it did not work out.

Let’s hope we do not pay too dearly for it.

#2 Comment By victory over eurasia On May 16, 2017 @ 8:42 am

The extraordinary negligence of the institutional GOP in enabling this in utterly mind-numbing (but, unfortunately, not surprising). I suppose almost 40 years of ant-gov’t rhetoric has reached its inevitable conclusion, a governing body that disregards government except for their own base and material wants.

The judgement of history will be harsh, but we must live with their actions and outcomes in the here and now. One can only hope for a full sweep of the GOP out of office next year, but will they go quietly? I doubt it, and the new voter suppression commission established by the orange buffoon will make every effort to keep these weak-willed and greedy men in power.

Sec. Clinton warned the country, but, I suppose, emails……

#3 Comment By ADC Wonk On May 16, 2017 @ 8:49 am

Check this out:

In light of this, and out of worries about the White House’s ability to keep secrets, some of our spy agencies have begun withholding intelligence from the Oval Office. … For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets.

Here’s the crazy part. The above was written three months ago (!!) in the NY Observer (formerly owned by Jared Kushner).

The Intelligence Community certainly figured out Trump correctly.

One shudders to imagine what they think of him now.

#4 Comment By Chris C. On May 16, 2017 @ 9:43 am

This is a disguised advocacy piece for just the sort of coup; nothing “soft” about it, that the author professes to bemoan. It is replete with conjecture. From the main article numerous accounts of “if true”, or “if this report if all true” or, “if it’s reasonably accurate” etc., grave consequences will follow. This with regards from news reports from a liberal media organ that has been hostile to a Trump presidency and willing to bend the truth, understate and/or misreport information prior to his taking office, and based upon anonymous sources, supposedly part of the intelligence community, which has among its numbers, many holdovers from the previous administration and certainly many who are also unfailingly hostile to the president. Firm denials from those who were actually present during the meeting are dismissed out of hand.

Yes there are reasons to weep. Start with unremitting and uncompromising hostility of many in the political and media establishment counted among the left and the right, who are indeed determined to undermine our democratic system and make our nation ungovernable. They should simply admit their anarchic tendencies and stop hiding behind the cover of an unfortunate but necessary “soft coup”, climb out from behind their rocks, identify themselves, and make their case for the propriety of leaking and misreporting information in an open and above board fashion. The “crisis” is with those who would seek to nullify the decision of the people of last November, by surreptitious means. We’re to distrust the president, but not those who undermine him by underhanded means? The president will be accountable for the decisions he makes. His anonymous detractors must be as well. And if they break the law they should face the consequences.

#5 Comment By John Gruskos On May 16, 2017 @ 9:44 am

Trump did nothing wrong.

As commander in chief, he decided to share intelligence with our defacto allies, the Russians, in order to advance our common struggle against ISIS.

This course of action was in accordance with his campaign promises and his oath of office.

A coup, soft or otherwise, which frustrates the will of the voters and nullifies our constitution would be the gravest constitutional crisis in the history of our republic.

The leaders of any such coup would deserve to be tried for treason.

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 16, 2017 @ 9:46 am

Your hair’s on fire again Noah. You say that this is “the latest and most serious misdeed by President Trump.”

“Misdeed”? In what sense “misdeed”? I quote from the Lawfare article that you link to:

“…The President did not ‘leak’ classified information in violation of law. He is allowed to do what he did…The nature of the system is that the President gets to disclose what he wants…The President determines the system of designating classified information through Executive Order, and he is entitled to depart from it at well…The Supreme Court has stated in Department of the Navy v. Egan that ‘[the President’s] authority to classify and control access to information bearing on national security…flows primarily from this Constitutional investment of power in the President and exists quite apart from any explicit congressional grant.’ Because of his broad constitutional authority in this realm, the president can, at any time, either declassify information or decide whom to share it with. In short, Trump did not violate any criminal law concerning the disclosure of classified information here.”

The mainstream media – and the Republican and Democratic establishments – don’t like Trump. They don’t like Trump meeting with the Russians. They don’t like the idea that the president wants to improve US-Russia relations. They don’t like the idea of the President sharing information with the Russians that he thinks will help to build a useful level of trust and cooperation with the Russians.

No, Noah, there is no “misdeed” by President Trump – much less “most serious misdeed by President Trump” – only the latest in the endless rounds of Washington Post/mainstream-media “let’s-take-down-Trump” rants.

The President, his Secretary of State, and his National Security Advisor meet in the White House with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador to try to work to improve US-Russia relations and to begin to solve the international problems that only these two nations – cooperating together – can solve…

…And you don’t like it.

#7 Comment By Cash On May 16, 2017 @ 9:49 am

And last November, conservatives considered Trump the better choice over Hillary because she was a radical. . . .

If Trump was the conservative choice, then the word conservative no longer has any meaning.

Erratic, impulsive, lashing out — Trump ruins everything he touches.

If God does indeed love America, He will get us through the Trump years without nuclear war.

#8 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On May 16, 2017 @ 10:00 am

Again, this is why the Russia investigation matters, and why it borders on treasonous to dismiss it as fake news or a sour grapes excuse created by the Democrats to explain the loss. There are timeless, effective, necessary strategies and tactics in terms of the very broad intelligence game – and the 45th POTUS just does not understand or care to understand this (among others) aspect of his job. As I have noted in other threads, the focus on ‘collusion’ is moot, as are the denials or rejections. As we saw yesterday, the POTUS is colluding with Russia (sharing classified intel) and he isn’t eve aware of it. This could be the result of a well-executed ruse on the part of Russian, or incompetence, ignorance, and dereliction of duty on the part of the Executive Branch. I tend to see it as a little of both, but we all know this. This is why Stone, Manafort, Flynn, Kushner, DJT, Jr., and Page Matter. For the last time, this is what We the People get when we elected a game show host as POTUS. Trump is Tweeting while Washington, DC burns.

#9 Comment By William Dalton On May 16, 2017 @ 10:39 am

For anyone to equate Donald Trump sharing state secrets about ISIS terrorism with the Russians with the prospect of Trump ordering a nuclear attack appears to me to be more irrational than anything we have seen out of the President. If Trump wants to treat Russia as an ally in the implementation of his foreign policy rather than as an adversary I imagine that he will eventually appoint officers in the State, Defense and Intelligence departments who will act to implement his policies rather than frustrate them, and not need to burden him with the decision whether to declassify or share every piece of secret intelligence.

The biggest problem with the Trump presidency is that he has not taken command of his government. Time will tell whether he is capable of doing so.

#10 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 16, 2017 @ 11:15 am

@ ADC Wonk, who quotes John R. Schindler from The New York Observer: John R. Schindler is not necessarily the source you want to quote.

“John Schindler announced that his relationship with the Naval War College has ended after he was caught in a sexting scandal. Schindler emerged from relative obscurity to become a prominent critic of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald…In the course of his social media campaign promoting the NSA Schindler made copious statements regarding both Greenwald and Snowden, most of which revolved around an unsubstantiated claim that Snowden was really a Russian agent. Though some of Schindler’s statements veered well outside his conspiracy theory such as when he compared Edward Snowden to Adolf Hitler and said Glenn Greenwald would be well suited to serve Joseph Stalin and be a mass murderer like Lavrentiy Beria. But it was not Schindler’s unhinged comments that brought him to official disgrace. It was, ironically, his inappropriate use of communications technology. The former employee of the premiere signal intelligence agency of the world stupidly decided to send a picture of his penis to a person he met on the internet…Schindler was subsequently put on leave from the Naval War College pending a review. The review was completed with the result reportedly told to Schindler in late July that he was out at the Naval War College. He was apparently given the option of resigning rather than being fired, which he took.”


In other words, ADC Wonk: You might not want to be on Schindler’s list.

#11 Comment By Captain P On May 16, 2017 @ 11:16 am

The biggest problem with all this hysteria to me is that in Syria, RUSSIA IS OUR PARTNER. If Trump had told Kim Jong-Un information about a sensitive intelligence asset in North Korea, different story.

Why is it off-limits to warn Russia about a threat to airline security? Russia has ALSO been the victim of an airline bombing- remember this? [6]

#12 Comment By Doug On May 16, 2017 @ 11:31 am

Everyone who focuses on the “Trump had every right” argument are completely ignoring the scandalous element of the story.

The information Trump provided to the Russians was obtained by an ally in a highly secret information sharing agreement. Trump reportedly provided this information to the Russians without the consent of the ally that provided it, and did so in a way that the Russians could then determine who this ally is. This ally is going to think very hard about sharing such information again, and perhaps they had very good reasons to keep this arrangement secret from the Russians (as well as the British, Germans, and apparently everyone else). Trump unilateraly decided to compromise this country for the sake of having something to brag about. This is to the detriment of US intelligence on ISIS and it’s counterterrorism efforts.

Saying ‘Trump did nothing illegal’ does nothing to answer the crucial questions surrounding this controversy.

#13 Comment By ADC Wonk On May 16, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

Trump did nothing wrong.

Wow. Why are even GOP Senators complaining about it?

Our allies are none-to-happy about this. Particularly the one that shared that information with the US.

This was “code-word” secret — that’s beyond Top Secret, and it’s possible that even the VP didn’t know this information. And Trump just casually mentions it to these Russians? How easily do you think our close allies will share top secret information with us now? What cost will there be to not getting that information anymore?


#14 Comment By David Naas On May 16, 2017 @ 12:20 pm

It is Spring.
And we have had an interesting Seven Days. In May.

#15 Comment By Skeptic On May 16, 2017 @ 12:51 pm

Does anyone happen to know (or care) exactly what information was passed on to the Russian government? I heard fleeting fragments of information that seem to suggest that the goal was to warn them about threats of bombs going off on civilian aircraft. If Trump was trying to help save Russian civilians, I think that is a good thing.

At the same time, I don’t understand the newly fashionable piety toward the ‘intelligence community.’ That ‘community’ is supposed to serve the republic, and the people’s elected representative, not the other way around. McMaster denies methods were leaded in any case, and if protecting secrecy was the worry, why in God’s name did the WPost do its damndest to make sure this ‘incident’ got shouted all over the world?

I’d like to see a lot more circumspection, on the pages of TAC, toward reports emanating from the Washington Post, source of the story that Russia hacked Vermont’s electric grid, and purveyor of the story that the group PropOrNot is a reliable arbiter of who is and isn’t a purveyor of Russian propaganda in the U.S. The Washington Post, in other words, has an agenda and is not credible on a range of topics related to foreign policy. How is this not obvious?

#16 Comment By Skeptic On May 16, 2017 @ 12:53 pm

McMaster denies methods were leaked.

#17 Comment By pro bono On May 16, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

I’m at least as worried about the military and intelligence services as about Trump. Eisenhower wasn’t stupid. He knew exactly what he was talking about, and his warnings about the military have been repeatedly born out by experience.

The fact that year in and year out, regardless of what the people want or how they vote, we are dragged deeper into these Middle East messes isn’t because of Bush, or Obama, or Trump per se, it’s often as not because they handed the car keys to the military and intelligence services. The military advised Trump to help the Saudis starve Yemen. The military approved his missile strike on Syria. And now the military now wants Trump to send troops BACK INTO AFGHANISTAN for chrissakes. That says it all, really.

So don’t get all holy and pious about our military and intelligence services. They are interest groups like any other, deeply implicated in fantastic levels of corruption overseas (disappearing crates of cash, massive bribes to and from warlords, the Fat Leonard scandal, etc etc), in torture, in needless, pointless death, in spying on us, in countless expensive botches and failures. They are institutions our Founders and their successors have been urgently concerned to control.

#18 Comment By G Harvey On May 16, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

If might be called ‘national security,’ but really it would be “the interests and prejudices’ of Neocons, in both parties.

#19 Comment By John Gruskos On May 16, 2017 @ 1:31 pm

Russia is a a better defacto ally against ISIS and Al-Qaeda than “allies” such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel – a fact which war monger GOP senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham fail to appreciate.

If Trump is cooperating with Russia against Al-Qaeda and ISIS, despite the protests of our Middle Eastern “allies” and senators like John McCain, he is fulfilling his campaign promises and his responsibilities as commander in chief.

#20 Comment By Johann On May 16, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

If Hillary had won, we may have already been in WWIII. And instead of a 70& reduction in 3rd world immigration it may have been an increase of 70%, and judge Gorsuch would not be on the supreme court, and the XL and Dakota Access pipelines would not be approved, and economic killing regulations would not have been cancelled, etc.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 16, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how the country’s saviors are the same ones that have gotten the country where it is today.

#22 Comment By Polichinello On May 16, 2017 @ 7:59 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how the country’s saviors are the same ones that have gotten the country where it is today.

180 to this. The accusations so far are a tissue of spin, misdirection and wishful thinking. Nevermind, the people pouncing on these leaks ignore the fact that the leakers themselves are breaking the law.

#23 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 16, 2017 @ 9:16 pm

It never ceases to amaze me how the country’s saviors are the same ones that have gotten the country where it is today.

As Hannibal Smith once remarked (often attributed falsely to Chairman Mao), things are darkest before they go totally black.

#24 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 16, 2017 @ 9:17 pm

It’s always fun when captcha puts up road signs. Gotta help Waymo train those self-driving cars….

#25 Comment By Cash On May 16, 2017 @ 11:16 pm

William Dalton,

Do you honestly think what Trump is doing constitutes implementing a foreign policy strategy?

When I wrote that I hope we survive his presidency without a nuclear war, I was not being hyperbolic.

Read how this man makes decisions. His staff is reduced to ginning up fake news stories to push a decision their way. Last person to talk to him usually wins. Demands loyalty while throwing subordinates under the bus. Trump taking command of his government — huh? He’s more interested in what he’s having for lunch.

The only remaining question is timing and circumstance of his departure.

#26 Comment By RudyM On May 17, 2017 @ 12:36 pm

Russia is fighting ISIS and similar terrorist groups. Israel is not. Some key officials in Israel prefer ISIS to Assad. Israel has also provided medical support for ISIS. I (as a registered Democrat) voted for Trump partly because I wanted to see a reversal in US-Russian relations. I prefer even inconsistent, possibly random policy on Trump’s part to what I expected from Hillary.

And Israel is not an ally in my opinion:


#27 Comment By sid_finster On May 17, 2017 @ 1:04 pm

“Some key officials in Israel”?


#28 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 17, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

“180 to this. The accusations so far are a tissue of spin, misdirection and wishful thinking. Nevermind, the people pouncing on these leaks ignore the fact that the leakers themselves are breaking the law.”

No argument from me.