Trump reverses course on unlawful orders

Just the day after he doubled down on his assertion that he could order the U.S. military to violate the laws of war by committing torture and murdering enemies’ families, and that he would be obeyed because he’s such a great leader, Donald Trump backed off, without of course admitting that he’d be wrong.

Of course that’s good news. Anything  that reminds people that war – and politics – are contests within rules is, to that extent, valuable. The worst thing among many bad things about Trump his consistent message that the rules only apply to “losers” and “p*ssies.”

Why did he do it? After all, backing off is not Trump’s strong suit (though neither is consistency). It’s impossible to be sure at a distance, but my guess is that he was told by people he has to listen to that – while he can get away with a lot – he couldn’t get away with dissing the military. Perhaps the combination of the letter by 25 Republican-foreign-policy Establishment figures, the furious denunciation by Mitt Romney, and the fairly harsh words from John McCain finally sunk in, though all of those took place before the debate.

Hudathunkit? Looks as if The Donald might be minimally educable after all. Of course that doesn’t make him fit to be President, but it suggests that limits still apply. That’s a relief.

Update Kevin Drum offers a more cynical take: Trump was relying on the fact that masses of people would see and hear him acting tough while much smaller numbers – but including members of elites he needs to please – would read about the retraction. That makes him a winner both ways. The only sure thing about the 2016 election is that the more cynical interpretation is likely to be the correct one.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

4 thoughts on “Trump reverses course on unlawful orders”

  1. This is something you can be sure he'll do throughout the campaign: Making outrageously impossible/cruel promises to mass audiences (debates, rallies) that he quietly walks back on smaller outlets (print, traditional news sites). This allows him to throw red meat to the low information bigots while reassuring the establishment that he doesn't really mean it. He is showman but he's not a clown; and I think he probably has some grasp of what the limits are which is why the Republican establishment will ultimately line up behind him by the convention, if not sooner. This election is by no means going to be a cake walk for us Democrats.

  2. "A president needs political understanding to run the government, but he may be elected without it." — Harry S. Truman

  3. In general, I think it's a combination of Kevin Drum's reasoning and The Donald's instinctive realization that he'd gone too far. What I find astonishing is the self congratulations being exchanged by liberals with people who either committed or facilitated exactly the kinds of war crimes they are now shocked, absolutely shocked,nth at Donald Trump might order.

    Two glaringly obvious examples, the details of which are by now so familiar that it's unnecessary to repeat them. Abu Ghraib become synonymous with totture and prisoner abuse by the American military. A couple of grunts were punished once it became clear that the scandal was a public relations nightmare but otherwise the American people and the American military were okay what was done.

    Guantanamo Bay is a hellhole that started under President Bush and continued under President Obama. Fully staffed with professional torturors and nobody seems to taking about war crimes trials for these people. We should be but we aren't.

    So it seems to me that the question for liberals and the military is why would torture ordered by a President Trump be nobly resisted when similar orders by previous presidents were obeyed with hesitation?

  4. All of this is about the optics. Trump's reputation for honesty about his intentions is pretty much nonexistent. But if a President Trump did decide to commit what we think of as war crimes, I have no doubt he could (as GWB did) find attornies who would write secret opinions explaining why the action was really legal. So even if he intended to abide by his campaign promise to obey the law, it would in practice be meaningless.

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