WaPo columnist notes that there are ways the Pentagon could stop Trump from taking impulsive actions

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tags: Nixon, Trump



David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post. 

“The president’s view, and whatever orders stem from that view, carry the day,” wrote Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard University professor and a widely respected authority on national security law, in a recent post on the Lawfare blog. (Harvard law student Sarah Grant co-wrote the post.)

But take a closer look if you worry that Trump’s impulsive decisions could crash the ship of state against the rocks. Research reveals some fascinating instances when another erratic president, Richard Nixon, was checked by his subordinates.

Let’s start with a little-known confrontation that involves, yes, North Korea. On April 14, 1969, North Korean fighters shot down a Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane over international waters, killing all 31 crew members. Nixon wanted to retaliate militarily, as did his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. But Defense Secretary Melvin Laird was wary, fearing that the United States wasn’t ready for the consequences that might follow.

So Laird slow-rolled the process. He delayed action. He presented studies. He halted the additional surveillance flights needed to gather intelligence before a strike. Citing a Pentagon logistics study, he told Nixon that he doubted “we have the capability now to handle a major confrontation in Korea.”

And Laird prevailed. The retaliatory strike Nixon wanted never happened. Reading the account by Richard Hunt published by the Historical Office of the Secretary of Defense, it seems that Laird accomplished a classic case of bureaucratic obstruction.




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