Trump’s national security critics shouldn’t ignore their mistakes

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There’s a lot of buzz from opponents and critics of Donald Trump on the fact that 50 national security experts—all Republicans—have proclaimed they are unable to support Trump because he’ll put America at risk as Commander in Chief.  

I have deep respect for many of the individuals in the group of 50 experts.  In fact, many of them were serving in government and influenced American foreign policy in the post 9-11 era as I and many other Americans served in combat overseas.  

{mosads}All of them have earned the right to express their collective viewpoint, but they too are not devoid of criticism for their mistakes—some of which still have an impact on U.S. security today. 

As part of President George W. Bush’s leadership team, a core group of these experts were repeatedly tested in the fight against global terrorism after the 9-11 attacks.  After all, Bush was a wartime President.  And to their credit the U.S. did not experience another attack under President Bush’s watch.   Though with each test they faced, not all were handled with the artfulness and foresight that Donald Trump has been excoriated for lacking.  

To illustrate, look no further than the war in Iraq, not including the [failed] intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction. 

Perhaps the most significant error, with consequences still felt today, was the decision to disband the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion to ouster Saddam Hussein—a decision that can be painfully cited as part of the cause for the rise of the Islamic State.  The absence of the Iraqi Army created a vacuum that was soon filled by a Sunni insurgency that battled U.S. troops and interests in the years that followed and created a destabilizing headwind.  Propelled by the insurgency, the Islamic State has since recruited some of the top commanders and fighters that once served in the same Iraqi Army that was dissolved against the better judgment of many military leaders.

The Iraq War was eventually won militarily due to the surge of an additional 30,000 troops in 2007, but only after the Bush Administration was faced with the risk of losing a ground war in which thousands of Americans were killed and more were injured.  The idea of a surge is not something the Bush Administration accepted at first.  That resistance continued, until the pressure became too great and a realization emerged within the White House that the U.S. was on the cusp of possible defeat.  The delay in the surge created an heavier burden for the U.S. military, which had already sacrificed greatly, but the surge that was resisted at first ultimately proved effective. 

Another example is personal.  I have vivid recollection as a Marine Corps officer in the first battle of Fallujah.  We entered the city and began to fight our way through, but the attack was prematurely called off and the Marines were moved out of Fallujah.  The decision to pull back did not come from our military, but rather it originated with the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer and had the blessing of White House.  There was too much concern for political sensitivities at the time.  To no surprise, Fallujah erupted again and Marines where sent back into the city in 2004 for what became one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war.  It’s a fight that very well could have been avoided, along with the death and injury of hundreds of Marines.    

And there shouldn’t be any overlooking the fact that in the early stages of the war, the U.S. military lacked sufficient protection—provided by body armor and up-armored vehicles—against the threat of roadside bombs, the primary cause for U.S. casualties throughout the war.  Much of it came later.  It’s one thing to enter a conflict without certain resources that just aren’t available or technically not feasible.  It’s another to let the bureaucratic process and decision makers in government slow-roll their delivery.

Some of these same problems persisted in Afghanistan, which existed as the forgotten war during the Iraq campaign.  The objective there was to create a democratic government under the foolish notion that Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan, with swaths of country still in the stone-age, could look, feel and act no different than the U.S.  Still, the Administration persisted with the imposition of a democratic central government.  And today, fifteen years after America’s longest running war began, Afghanistan and it’s government are in disarray. 

This criticism by no means absolves the responsibility of the Obama Administration of its failures in the Middle East and elsewhere, but it should serve to illustrate in a snapshot that composure or fitness on a Presidential podium doesn’t always translate into good decision making or inspire good leadership within an administration.  The post 9-11 world we live in today was forged in large part by many of the national security experts that are now criticizing Donald Trump.  They too bear responsibility for much of what either candidate for President—not just Donald Trump, should he win—will have to confront. 

When I think of national security expertise, I think of great Americans like Marine Corps Generals Jim Mattis and John Kelly, Army General Jack Keane and others who have actually demonstrated the right foresight and temperament under the harshest of conditions and circumstances.  I trust the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford.  I trust Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley and the rest of our military leadership.  These are the types of military leaders this country breeds and these are the types of experts who will matter most to any Commander in Chief.   

Trump, as President, will no doubt listen to our military leaders and respect their authority and judgment.  To suggest he won’t is ridiculous.  Something tells me that all of those 50 national security experts were looking for any reason not to support Donald Trump—because loyalty to the Bush legacy is not enough.  But in doing so, they shouldn’t be so quick to ignore their own mistakes and errors in judgement. 

At the very least, Tump has the resolve and fortitude to defend America’s security interests without compromising values and strength.  That makes for a strong foundation for any Commander in Chief. 

Hunter represents California’s 50th District and has served in the House since 2009. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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