President Donald Trump has had an odd relationship with the military, an institution he deliberately avoided as a Vietnam War draft-dodger but now sees as a symbol of power he can use to adorn himself.
But it’s only the firepower — not the bravery or sacrifice of the soldiers who wield it — that appeals to Trump. Recall his response to Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Humayun Khan, was an Army captain in Iraq when a suspicious car approached his guard post in June 2004. After ordering his subordinates to stand back, Humayun Khan lost his life confronting the suicide bomber behind the wheel.
Trump in 2016 didn’t simply dismiss the Khan parents’ criticism of his Islamophobic rhetoric; he actually compared himself to their heroic son.
“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” Trump said. “I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”
The Khans’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to earn respect from Trump, a standout high school athlete who nonetheless received three draft deferments deeming him unfit for service in Vietnam because of “bone spurs” in his heel (when asked in 2015 which heel, Trump said he couldn’t recall).
Neither was Trump impressed by the late Sen. John McCain, who turned down an offer of freedom by his Vietnamese captors because they wouldn’t agree to free his comrades along with him.
“(McCain’s) not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
But in accused war criminal Edward Gallagher, a NAVY Seal accused of shooting civilians and stabbing a prisoner in Iraq, Trump has finally found his hero in uniform. Gallagher first drew scrutiny from his comrades in 2017, when two fellow SEAL snipers fired warning shots to drive civilians away from an area with suspected Islamic State fighters. Gallagher, a comrade testified, gunned down an elderly man, then joked “You guys missed him, but I got him.” Another witness testified that in a separate incident, Gallagher fired upon a group of adolescent girls, hitting one in the stomach.
“I shot more warning shots to save civilians from Eddie than I ever did at ISIS. I see an issue with that,” one witness texted comrades afterward.
Gallagher was acquitted on the charges after his defense argued that no one witnessed him pull the trigger. But later that summer, Gallagher was convicted of posing for a photo with the corpse of an ISIS fighter. Witnesses testified that Gallagher had finished off the wounded fighter by stabbing him in the throat, then texting: “Got him with my hunting knife.”
The charge of stabbing a wounded prisoner was dismissed; Gallagher’s defense argued that the message was a joke. Prosecutors claimed witness Corey Scott went silent with testimony against Gallagher after being granted immunity, and could face perjury charges as a result.
Gallagher will retire with full honors after Trump intervened on his behalf, forcing out Navy Secretary Richard Spencer for his insistence on upholding disciplinary measures against Gallagher. Trump even ordered the military to punish the prosecutors who investigated “Eddie,” as he affectionately calls him on social media.
“The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries,” Spencer wrote in his resignation latter, adding that he “cannot in good conscience” obey Trump’s order.
Given that Gallagher was already acquitted of the most serious charges, one might ask what virtue Trump sees in him. Similarly, one might also ask why Trump has insisted on praising brutal tyrants such as Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin and Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman. The answer is the same: our black-hearted president wants to be perceived as a Genghis Khan-like figure, so he goes out of his way to associate himself with abject cruelty.