by Brent Budowsky
Democrats running for all national offices in 2020, from the most liberal liberal to the most centrist centrist, can and in most cases will run as the candidates most capable of protecting our national security. This will prove to be a potent issue in red and purple states, as well as blue states.
President Trump, for whatever reason, from the moment he took office until today, has been in a state of perpetual conflict with the American intelligence community and has repeatedly shown his contempt for military advice from his senior commanders. This is unprecedented in the history of commanders in chief, does grave damage to American security, helps America’s enemies in the world — and creates a huge political opening for Democratic candidates for the presidency, Senate and House.
Remember “Trump’s generals,” the term widely used when Trump named to high posts General H.R. McMaster and retired generals James Mattis and John Kelly? I supported all of these appointments, setting aside that the phrase “Trump’s generals” was highly inappropriate, since generals do not belong to any politician.
McMaster and Kelly are gone, after rocky tenures during which it was widely known that they disagreed with many crucial security policies and were poorly treated by the commander in chief. Mattis is gone, after an extraordinary resignation in protest in which he publicly expressed his disagreements with Trump that were so severe that he could no longer continue in office as a matter of conscience and honor. When Trump asserted he fired Mattis he was bearing false witness. Again.
It is no secret that many current commanders are fiercely committed to NATO, privately deplore Trump’s attacks against NATO allies, and want a strong American response to attacks against our democracy from Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, who Trump has often praised.
Similarly, Trump has repeatedly and contemptuously been at odds with virtually our entire intelligence community on critical issues. When he first took office he attacked widely respected intelligence professionals who were holdovers from the Obama administration. Trump even threatened to revoke the security clearances of former CIA directors, an unprecedented and unconscionable abuse.
Then, when Trump replaced them with his own appointees, he attacked, criticized or ignored them as well. When intelligence leaders warned of the Russian attack against our democracy, Trump accused them of spreading fake news. At least twice Trump met with Putin with no senior officials present. After his disastrous meeting with Putin in Helsinki he appeared to side with the former KGB boss over his senior intelligence leaders.
When many intelligence and military leaders warn that Kim Jong Un continues to pursue nuclear weapons for North Korea, Trump ignores or criticizes them. In an extraordinary recent hearing offering a threat assessment, leaders of the American intelligence and counterintelligence agencies publicly disagreed with Trump on a list of major issues.
When Trump decided to withdraw troops from Syria, he did not consult with General Joseph Votel, the commander of CENTCOM with responsibility over American military forces in Syria and the Mideast. If Trump had consulted with military leaders they would have told him that his plan to withdraw from Syria would only help Russia, Iran and ISIS terrorists who could revive their escalated terror attacks within months of an American withdrawal.
Democratic presidential candidates in 2020, and candidates for the Senate and House, have a golden opportunity to run as strong national security candidates. They can run as members of the patriot party determined to defend America from foreign threats and as strong supporters of our armed forces, one of the most trusted and respected institutions in America.
Democratic candidates for president might consider a vice presidential nominee such as retired Admiral William McRaven, the Navy Seal commander who spearheaded the mission against Osama bin Laden and has been strongly critical of Trump, on a national unity ticket.
Democrats at all levels can seize the high ground on national security, vowing to defend America from all threats, posing a powerful contrast with Trump and his GOP supporters.