How Trump Is Slowly Destroying America's National Security Agencies

Author:Mr Jeffrey Smith
Profession:Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP

The Guardian has reported that John Le Carré, the famed British spy novelist, recently said of the Trump presidency: "Something truly, seriously bad is happening and we have to be awake to that." Chillingly, he expressed alarm about the "toxic" parallels between the rise of Donald Trump and hard right regimes in Poland and Hungary and the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

Le Carré may be overstating the risk of rising fascism but he is surely right to warn that many of Mr Trump's early actions and words challenge fundamental tenets of democracy.

These challenges include his assertion that the media is "the enemy of the people", that news he doesn't like is "fake news", that there were "good people" among the neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, and that the Senate should change its rules to abolish the requirement for 60 votes to end a filibuster, thus eliminating the single most important protection of minority interests in our system of government.

At the same time, the Trump administration has mounted a systematic effort to "deconstruct the 'administrative state'", as his recently departed chief strategist, Steven Bannon, was fond of saying.

Much of this effort has been focused on the regulatory agencies rather than the national security agencies. But make no mistake; the president's words and actions are deconstructing those agencies with perhaps even greater consequences.

Trump's destructive impact on the national security agencies has two dimensions.

First, his foreign policy of "America first" has called into question our commitment to our allies and the international framework and norms that have kept us safe and prosperous for 70 years. In turn, the American institutions and individuals who must execute this policy are undermined.

Second, some of his actions and utterances are so far outside the bounds of responsible presidential conduct that many professionals who serve in the national security agencies lack confidence in him as commander-in-chief. Much damage has been done and whether it can be repaired, and if so how, is not clear.

The world is wobbling on its axis under stresses caused by wars, ethnic tensions, instability, climate change and economic pressure in virtually every region. The liberal international order, largely established and led by the United States since the end of the second world war, is fraying. Trump's "America first" policy pays scant heed to international cooperation and appears to believe that if we have enough military...

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