Column: President Trump threatens national security

For the Valley News
Published: 9/14/2020 10:10:05 PM
Modified: 9/14/2020 10:10:01 PM

The president of the United States has a sacred duty to keep America safe from its enemies. Yet Donald J. Trump has made us far less secure than we were four years ago.

With all the charges and counter-charges flying around today about racism, domestic violence, corruption and the president’s character, it is easy to lose sight of Trump’s failure to perform this most important responsibility. It may be tempting, too, to forgive his failure because of his tax reductions, appointment of anti-abortion judges, and tough-on-crime rhetoric. But we live in a dangerous world, and nothing else really matters if we are not safe from our enemies.

President Trump’s isolationist policies, his fealty to the oil industry, and his focus on domestic politics have left us more vulnerable. They also have made war more likely. Here, briefly, are just some of the ways, all of them well documented:

COVID-19: Early this year, President Trump repeatedly and publicly downplayed warnings that the novel coronavirus posed a serious threat to the U.S. and our economy. He still has no coherent plan for fighting the pandemic. If a foreign enemy, rather than a contagious disease, killed almost 200,000 Americans, we would consider that an act of war. Yet Trump has not treated COVID-19 as a national security threat.

Intelligence: Trump has consistently disparaged the U.S. intelligence community — ignoring reports that he finds embarrassing or inconvenient, replacing career agency leaders with political hacks, even refusing to read daily presidential intelligence briefings. He has also halted in-person agency reports to congressional intelligence committees. He has therefore blinded himself, as well as Congress and the American people, to foreign threats.

North Korea: President Trump’s on-again-off-again romance with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has left that nation free to build more nuclear weapons, which it may now be able to deliver to the U.S. mainland.

NATO: Trump has worked hard to weaken NATO, which has protected Europe from Soviet and Russian aggression since 1949. He has questioned America’s commitment to defend other NATO member states if they are attacked by Russia, even though NATO sent tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan to help defend America after 9/11. Earlier this year he ordered the removal of 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany. Trump has even proposed to withdraw from NATO altogether because, he maintains, European partners are not paying enough to defend themselves. A former supreme allied commander of NATO, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, says American withdrawal would be “the gift of the century for Putin.”

Russian election interference: Russia’s well-documented interference in U.S. elections represents a grave threat to U.S. sovereignty and our democracy. Yet Trump has refused to condemn this ongoing Russian subversion, dismissing the FBI’s Mueller Report and the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report as political hoaxes aimed at damaging his reelection prospects.

Climate change: Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming means that in coming years the world will become much hotter and more violent, with coastal flooding, wildfires, mass migrations, and wars over increasingly scarce water and arable lands. The Defense Department calls climate change a “conflict multiplier.”

The Middle East: Trump has endangered a fragile peace in the Middle East by moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, approving Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and cutting off aid to Palestinian refugees. He has also approved selling advanced U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, making war in the region more likely.

The border wall: President Trump has taken billions of dollars appropriated by Congress for military construction projects and spent the money instead on his border wall. Meanwhile, his acting secretary of the Department Homeland Security has ordered his agency to shift its emphasis from counterterrorism and cybersecurity to immigration at the southern border, where no threat to national security has ever been documented.

Nuclear weapons: Perhaps most disturbing, Trump has made nuclear war more likely. His withdrawal from the 2015 Iran agreement, over the objection of our European allies, has allowed Iran to resume its nuclear weapons program. Trump has withdrawn from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies treaties, which for many years helped protect European nations from Russian nuclear and conventional attacks. He has also refused to extend the expiring New START Treaty, the last remaining limit on the size of Russian and American nuclear arsenals. And he has proposed to resume U.S. nuclear weapons testing for the first time in 30 years, portending a new nuclear arms race.

It is no wonder that former Defense Secretary James Mattis called President Donald Trump “dangerous.” Based on Trump’s performance so far, we can only assume that if reelected he would make America even less secure in the future.

Stephen Dycus, of Strafford, is professor emeritus at Vermont Law School. He is co-author, most recently, of National Security Law and Counterterrorism Law.

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