Barely a day passed after the president’s acquittal in the Senate before he took action to transfer three figures connected with the effort to oust him. President Trump directed the transfer of both Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his twin brother Yevgeny Vindman from the National Security Council. He also directed the recall of Ambassador Gordon Sondland.
The president had a duty to make these changes to ensure the integrity of our system of self-government the same way presidents have immediately acted to expel past administration officials who used their posts to undermine and criticize the policies of the elected president.
10 U.S.C. 888, Article 88 makes it a crime for a commissioned officer to use contemptuous words against the president. The importance of this law can be traced back to the destruction of representative democracy in Rome, when the man who would be later crowned Julius Caesar used his military post to delegitimize and neuter the Roman Senate.
Roman law specified that only elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could command armies within Italy. Any unelected commander who led forces within striking distance of Rome itself (by crossing the boundary set at the Rubicon River) would be considered a traitor.
The founding fathers similarly demanded the military submit to its elected leader. Article II, Section 2 provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” The founders feared a military that answered only to itself. To preserve self-government, the military must subordinate to elections. That means upholding the primacy of civilian control over the military.
Vindman is not a whistleblower. He’s an officer who attempted to usurp presidential leadership on Ukraine policy. He did not identify a rule, law, or regulation that the president violated. He was unable to identify any “crime” he thought the president might have committed. Vindman held a strong opinion that what the president did was “wrong” under Vindman’s conception of proper U.S. foreign policy.
“My core function is to coordinate U.S. government policy,” Vindman testified. That’s wrong. The president is the focal point of all foreign policy.
Perhaps the next president might seek Vindman’s policy expertise regarding Ukraine. But this president does not agree with Vindman’s conception of policy. Further, Vindman couldn’t content himself with registering a confidential objection to the president’s legal actions. He put on his military uniform to criticize the president’s policies to another branch of government. Vindman crossed the Rubicon, and he should not be allowed to do it again.
Many Americans do not agree with Vindman’s belief that the Bidens should be immune from inquiry. I want to abolish the two-tiered justice system that protects powerful people from the same laws under which the rest of us live. The Bidens should be investigated. That might offend the swamp. But there are legitimate swamp-draining reasons for asking about the Bidens.
Maybe Vindman can run for president to set different policy goals. But until then, Vidman should not be allowed to abuse his sensitive advisory position to thwart and criticize the president’s policies. He’s free to exercise his freedom of speech criticizing the president, but not as a military officer. Vindman hasn’t been “fired,” as the talking heads misleadingly report. He was transferred out of the sensitive National Security Council because he’s proven that he cannot be trusted to provide confidential advice to the president.
The voters, not Vindman, should have ultimate control over U.S. policy towards Ukraine. The golden thread connecting the ballot box to Ukraine policy passes through the president. Vindman’s attempt to break free of that control is counter to the Constitution and he should not be left in a position to do it again.
The president’s actions are consistent with historical precedent. For example, President Lincoln feared the impetuousness of his generals. He wrote to Gen. Joseph Hooker, “I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which, I am not quite satisfied with you. …you have taken counsel of your ambition…What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship…I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the Army of criticizing their Commander, and withholding confidence from him….”
We can also recall the examples of Gen. Douglas MacArthur defying President Truman and Gen. Stanley McChrystal criticizing President Obama. We can add to the list generals fired for criticizing President Clinton. The president, and through him the voters, are in charge of American foreign policy. That principle must be jealously guarded.
Whether they admit it or not, future Democrat presidents will benefit from this president’s bold action to protect the supremacy of civilian control over the military. All countries have elections. In most countries, however, those elections do not change power. For elections to matter, the elected leaders must be allowed to wield control; men like Vindman must be shown the door.