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Donald Trump retreats on issuing illegal orders to military.

Alternate title: somebody finally explained to Trump that he literally sounded like Hitler last night. LITERALLY.

AP Image AP_423809149365

And yes, I meant ‘literally’ in this case.  Look: when you pretty much flat-out espouse the Leader Principle at a political debate, don’t be upset when people ask you how your comments sound in the original German.  You don’t believe me?  Fine.  Let’s go the transcript AGAIN:

BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.

So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?

TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.

BAIER: But they’re illegal.

TRUMP: [Blusters about being a tough guy, whines about Ted Cruz]

BAIER: But targeting terrorists’ families?

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And — and — and — I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

Let’s stop for a moment and concede that Michael Hayden originally kind of* created a straw man argument that any even vaguely hawkish Republican could have seen and avoided. That’s actually not the point.  The point is, Donald Trump accepted the premises of the original argument. He could have argued that the military would have accepted those and other orders, because they’d actually be legal under specific circumstances.  After all, the world is not a cut-and-dried place; and arguments that make sense in theory can become really, really difficult to accept in practice.  Instead, Trump asserted that it didn’t matter whether the orders were illegal or not. The military would still wither under the baleful eye of Trumpoz and obey instantly.

Since then… well, apparently somebody actually sat down Donald Trump and explained to him how the military works. And how military discipline works. And how American law works.  And how the impeachment process works. And how the 25th Amendment works.  And, quite possibly, how the process for getting somebody involuntarily committed for a 72-hour mental health diagnosis works.  Whatever they did, the message got through:

WASHINGTON—Leading GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump said Friday he wouldn’t order the U.S. military to break international laws, addressing criticism from military and legal experts that his policies regarding torture and killing the family members of terrorists would violate the Geneva Convention.

Mr. Trump, in a statement to The Wall Street Journal, said he would “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

Well, that’s a relief.  Mind you, there’s a sixty percent chance that Trump will forget that he made this statement and start talking about how his mighty Will shall overcome the degenerate, effete bourgeois sensibilities of our military forces, or however he ends up putting it.  Still, this is a salutary lesson about Donald Trump: he caved on this one so fast because he didn’t really understand that conservatives and the military are NOT knuckle-dragging bloodthirsty savages who would cheerfully toss babies on the edges of their bayonets.  Seriously.  Trump says these sorts of things because he thinks that’s what conservatives want to hear.

Moe Lane

*’Kind of’ because Hayden’s basic point is sound. We avoid doing some things not because those things are ineffective, but because they are evil. And I don’t really mean that in an abstract sense, either; we are talking about the kind of things that almost leave a physical stench in your nostrils.

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