There’s an interesting minor furor going on over a statement that the wonderfully named Admiral Scott Swift made Thursday. Would he comply if President Trump ordered a nuclear strike on China?
“The answer would be yes,” Swift said.
It was clearly the right answer, if a scary one. Many people are nervous about the prospect of Donald Trump controlling nuclear weapons—Marco Rubio, for example—and everyone should be scared of a nuclear war with China, but the idea that the military follows orders from civilian leadership is appropriately sacrosanct. (The equally well-named Captain Charlie Brown, a good man, conceded dolefully that perhaps Swift should have questioned the premise of the question more aggressively.)
That is not the only interesting case study in civil-military affairs in the United States right now. On Wednesday, Trump abruptly announced a change of policy on Twitter, saying that the U.S. military “will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
The announcement was confusing for its timing, substance, and rationale. Less than a month ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis had announced that he was delaying for six months an Obama administration ruling accepting transgender soldiers, saying the Pentagon needed more time for review. Trump’s announcement was not accompanied by a formal order, a fact sheet, or any of the other information that typically accompanies such a policy shift. The timing was mysterious. Administration officials told reporters, anonymously, that the shift would put Democrats on the defensive in purple states, but Politico reported that Trump had made the move in a horse-trade to obtain funding for his border wall, raising the possibility that the purple-state excuse was an ex post facto rationalization.