It’s official. President Trump is, objectively speaking, a threat to the safety and security of the United States. And perhaps nothing demonstrated that better than when Trump started a tweetstorm that sent the Pentagon into a panic yesterday. The US military spent nine full minutes wondering if the president was about to start a war with North Korea.
At precisely 8:55am Eastern time yesterday, Trump sent out a cryptic tweet about consulting with military experts:
People started to make jokes on Twitter, guessing what Trump would no longer be allowing. But there was real concern in the US military that Trump was about to start a war with a country like North Korea—an action that would have serious consequences for the safety of millions of people around the world. Any military action on the Korean peninsula runs the risk of kicking off a nuclear engagement between the US and North Korea.
As Buzzfeed reported:
At the Pentagon, the first of the three tweets raised fears that the president was getting ready to announce strikes on North Korea or some other military action. Many said they were left in suspense for nine minutes, the time between the first and second tweet. Only after the second tweet did military officials receive the news the president was announcing a personnel change on Twitter.
At 9:04am, Trump finally sent out the second part of his thought in another tweet. And while it wasn’t about starting a war, it was about a bigoted and unnecessary new policy that would forbid transgender Americans from serving their country.
The president then finished his thought with a third tweet, effectively instituting a new policy in the blink of an eye that has sent the lives of trans soldiers into chaos.
At yesterday’s press briefing, new White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn’t answer whether this meant that trans soldiers, thousands of whom currently serve honorably in the US military, would be discharged, honorably or otherwise.
“That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place as it is done so lawfully,” Sanders said without really answering the question.
She was pressed yet again on the question of whether trans members of the military would be brought back from places like Afghanistan to fulfill an absurd and unjust new policy.
“Again, the implementation of policy is going to be something that the White House and the Department of Defense have to work together to lawfully determine,” Sanders repeated. “I would imagine the Department of Defense will be the lead on that and keep you posted as that takes place.”
As recently as last month, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the National Press Club that transgender members were serving honorably and there was no plan to scale back President Obama’s policy, implemented in 2016, to allow trans service members to serve openly.
“First of all, let’s be clear, transgender personnel are serving right now and there’s no review ongoing that would affect the ability of those currently serving to continue serving,” said Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the National Press Club on June 19, 2017.
And while the media rightly turned its attention to the real issue at hand yesterday, human rights for trans Americans, the uncertainty that President Trump subjected the Pentagon to for nine terrifying minutes shouldn’t be overlooked. This president is unhinged in a way that makes all Americans (not to mention the rest of the world) less safe. His own military commanders have no idea what he’s going to decide to do from minute to minute.
Trans members of the military aren’t putting America at risk. They’re patriotic people who want to serve their country. The real risk is instability in systems of government that depend on predictability from its top leadership to function confidently in the face of adversity.
The burden that’s currently stretching the Pentagon to the breaking point is that of a cowardly commander in chief who chooses to unleash cruel discriminatory policies via tweet, all while making those under him worry that we could be on the brink of thermonuclear war. And it’s no joke.
Some people say that you shouldn’t pay attention to Trump’s tweets because they’re a “distraction.” But the Pentagon is paying close attention. Because they know that any day now President Trump could wake up on the wrong side of the bed and announce World War III in 140 characters. Trump’s tweets have always been a late night punchline, but yesterday was a great reminder that they have real world consequences, whether it’s implementing shitty policies or nearly starting a war.
Update, 10:05 am: CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr just reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including General Dunford (the guy in the video above), had no idea that President Trump planned to ban transgender service members.
What an absolute shitshow.
Update, 10:50am: And to make matters even stranger, Trump still haven’t communicated the change in policy to his Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Update, 12:06pm: And as if all of this wasn’t scary enough, there’s this from Admiral Scott Swift today who acknowledged that if President Trump ordered a nuclear strike on China, he’d have to follow orders.
“At risk of being blunt... if, when you return to your command next week, you were to receive an order from the commander in chief, the president of the United States, to make a nuclear attack on China, would you do it?” asked Pete Van Ness, an academic at a security conference in Australia earlier today.
“The answer would be yes,” Swift said. “Every member of the US military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as the commander in chief appointed over us.”
The answer isn’t surprising or even controversial, but it’s an important reminder that having an unhinged lunatic with his hand on the nuclear button is dangerous for the entire world.