News & Politics

L.A. Times: If Trump Wins, a Military Coup 'Isn't Impossible'

(AP Photo/Cavit Ozgul)

Being oblivious to their own staggering stupidity isn’t uncommon for liberals. But the Los Angeles Times’ James Kirchick has taken that concept to a sublime level rarely reached by pundit or politico.

Kirchick has penned the most idiotic and the silliest op-ed of this political season. He seriously posits the notion that if Donald Trump is elected president, the military will be compelled to stage a coup to get rid of him.

What are the chances of that happening? About as likely as you opening your garage door and finding a unicorn where your car used to be.

Try to imagine, then, a situation in which Trump commanded our military to do something stupid, illegal or irrational. Something so dangerous that it put the lives of Americans and the security of the country at stake. (Trump’s former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio, said the United States could not trust “the nuclear codes” to an “erratic individual.”) Faced with opposition from his military brass, Trump would perhaps reconsider and back down. But what if he didn’t?

In that case, our military men and women, who swear to uphold the Constitution and a civilian chain of command, would be forced to choose between obeying the law and serving the wishes of someone who has explicitly expressed his utter lack of respect for it.

They might well choose the former.

“I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign,” retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as head of the CIA and the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush, said in response to Trump’s autocratic ruminations. Asked by TV host Bill Maher what would happen if Trump told American soldiers to kill the families of terrorists, as he has promised to do, Hayden replied, “If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”

Previously, in those rare situations when irreconcilable disagreements have arisen between America’s civilian and military leadership, it is the latter who were ultimately deemed out of line. This was the case when President Truman acrimoniously fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur after he publicly criticized Truman for denying him permission to bomb China in the midst of the Korean War. Though MacArthur returned to the United States with a hero’s welcome, Truman’s decision endures as one of the most important in the history of American civil-military relations.

Trump could pull a reverse-Truman, firing a general who refused to bomb.

Kirchick obviously hasn’t a clue about the traditions of the military. The joint chiefs especially are extremely sensitive to meddling in politics, which is what a coup would be. We’re not talking about soldiers refusing to obey orders, we’re talking about overturning 240 years of civilian control of the military. 

MacArthur was an exception to the rule. He thought he knew more than the civilians in Washington about the situation in Korea. He turned out to be dead wrong and then compounded the mistake by trying to widen the war. Truman would have none of it and relieved him of his command.

The U.S. came close once in our history to a military coup. In March of 1783, officers in the Continental Army had not been paid for months, and the promise of being awarded land after the war was being reneged upon by Congress. There was a movement of some high-ranking officers to march on Philadelphia and demand Congress give them what was promised.

George Washington got wind of the plot and called his officers together. In one of the pivotal moments of American history, Washington gave a speech pleading with his men to have patience, that he would handle Congress. The talk went over like a lead balloon.

But Washington, the consummate actor, had one more ace up his sleeve:

Washington then took out a letter from a member of Congress explaining the financial difficulties of the government.

After reading a portion of the letter with his eyes squinting at the small writing, Washington suddenly stopped. His officers stared at him, wondering. Washington then reached into his coat pocket and took out a pair of reading glasses. Few of them knew he wore glasses, and were surprised.

“Gentlemen,” said Washington, “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

For eight long years of war, those men had stood with Washington as he suffered many of the same hardships they did and faced danger in battle after battle. Witnesses claim that most of the men broke down in tears and the coup plot ended then and there.

Trump is willful, arrogant and is so stupid he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. But the chiefs — and most high-ranking officers in the U.S. military — will resign their commissions rather than carry out an illegal order. Trump may eventually  find an officer somewhere who will waterboard a terrorist or murder the family of an enemy combatant — but not before the military falls apart.

Why would they stage a coup when there’s a perfectly legitimate constitutional remedy? Impeachment may take a while, but it’s a damn sight better than the military running the country.

Kirchick is daft if the thinks the military would seize power under any circumstances. Even if Trump ordered a nuclear strike, it’s far more likely that cooler heads will have Trump declared incompetent. Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is clear on the matter:

Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

So Mr. Kirchick can rest easy. His ignorant attempt at click bait only showed how shallow his understanding of military tradition is.