Historian Waitman Wade Beorn, who served in Iraq after graduating from West Point, is deeply disturbed by President Trump's intervention into the Eddie Gallagher case:
History warns us that leaders who condone war crimes find themselves in command of criminal militaries. Lessons from the past about war crimes and transgressive military cultures are not just academic: My research shows that subordinates generally read their superiors’ intent with accuracy, for better and for worse. By demonstrating his willingness to intercede in the minutiae of military justice and disciplinary procedures, the president tells those who step over ethical boundaries that they can appeal to a sympathetic ear in the Oval Office. This is exceptionally dangerous. Our military demands that its members be able to recognize and refuse unlawful orders and relies on them to uphold codes of honorable behavior. But this presidential short-circuit can critically undermine this ethos. Military judges and juries may well question their own decisions, wondering whether the president will intervene and pillory them instead of the guilty. The effects of a malfunctioning moral compass extend past our borders. Allies and host nations will be more hesitant to work with the United States if they cannot count on us to effectively punish those who cross ethical boundaries. This can imperil our troops overseas and threaten our strategic safety.
Most importantly, Trump’s actions create a chilling effect for those in uniform who take risks to report bad apples like Gallagher. What are the incentives for risking a career and enduring the stress of reporting a comrade if the president of the United States and his troll army line up in opposition? Why would someone go through all that if they think that all their efforts will be nullified in the end? How many Gallaghers, Behennas, Lorances, and Golsteyns will escape justice now? Even before Trump’s meddling, the Navy SEALs who turned in Gallagher were told by their commanding officer to “stop talking about it” and that doing so would ruin their careers. Ironically, that officer, Commander Robert Breisch, told those SEALs that they risked losing their tridents. Gallagher himself called them “traitors” and obliquely suggested that they might meet retribution from other SEALs.
In addition to describing the moral rot, Beorn also points out how Gallagher and others profit from their disgusting behavior. Because in Trumpland, everything ultimately comes down to money.