Beyond the Edge

There’s that guy from Pittsburgh – Michael Hayden – the retired Air Force four-star and the former Director of the National Security Agency, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency too. In junior high, back in Pittsburgh, he played quarterback on a football team coached by Dan Rooney, the son of the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the guy who runs the team now. Hayden went to North Catholic High and then he was off to Duquesne, where he got all his degrees – and he still goes to all the Steelers games he can. One of his first jobs was as an equipment manager for the Steelers. He’s one of us. If you’re not from Pittsburgh, he’s just the man who knows more than anyone else about fighting the bad guys – he knows all the secret stuff too. He knows where all the bodies are buried – the actual bodies.

Hayden is retired now, but he’s been on all the talk shows on radio and television, on a book tour. His new book is Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror – and the title says it all. We have to do all we can to fight the bad guys – but not stupid stuff and not stuff that would break the laws we’ve all agreed on. Today he was on a local radio show out here defending Apple against the FBI, saying that unbreakable end-to-end encryption is good for everyone. Creating “back doors” invites chaos – soon everyone will see everything. It’s not a privacy issue. It’s a security issue – and that’s a hard sell out here. San Bernardino is just down the road. The dead terrorist’s Apple iPhone phone is still locked – but you play things to the edge. You don’t go over the edge. You think. You don’t bluster and demand dangerous stupid nonsense. Don’t be Donald Trump.

No, Hayden didn’t say that in the book. He said that out here last week, just down the street. HBO leases a soundstage at CBS Television City on the corner of Fairfax and Beverly where they tape Bill Maher’s show every Friday night. That’s where he said that:

Former CIA director Michael Hayden believes there is a legitimate possibility that the U.S. military would refuse to follow orders given by Donald Trump if the Republican front-runner becomes president and decides to make good on certain campaign pledges.

Hayden, who also headed the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, made the provocative statement on Friday during an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Trump, fresh off a string of primary victories, has yet to secure his party’s nomination, but Hayden said the candidate’s rhetoric already raises troubling questions.

“I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that candidate Trump expressed during the campaign,” Hayden said during the interview with Maher.

Hayden was concerned with this dangerous stupid nonsense:

Earlier this month, Trump told a South Carolina retirement community that he supports waterboarding and similar interrogation techniques because “torture works” when it comes to extracting vital information from terrorists.

Deeming waterboarding “torture,” President Obama’s administration discontinued its use during his first term in office. Proponents of the controversial practice avoid labeling it as torture, which would violate various international laws and treaties. Trump, meanwhile, has not only pledged to reinstate waterboarding, but also introduce other methods of interrogation that are “so much worse” and “much stronger.”

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t work – torture works,” Trump told the Sun City retirement community. “Okay, folks? Torture – you know, half these guys say: ‘Torture doesn’t work.’ Believe me, it works. Okay?”

That was a slight change from what he had been saying earlier, that even if torture doesn’t work, we should torture these folks anyway, because they deserve it, but there was more:

Trump has also said on multiple occasions that the United States should kill the family members of terrorists.

“That will make people think. Because they do not care very much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their family’s lives,” Trump said during a debate of Republican presidential candidates in December.

That led to this:

Hayden cited Trump’s pledge to kill family members as being among his most troubling campaign statements.

“That never even occurred to you, right?” Maher asked.

“God, no!” Hayden replied. “Let me give you a punchline: If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.”

“That’s quite a statement, sir,” Maher said.

“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Hayden added. “That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”

“You’ve given us a great reason not to support Trump. There would be a coup in this country,” Maher joked.

Hayden said he didn’t mean to imply that the military would provoke “a coup.”

“I think it’s a coup that you said it,” Maher added.

That set things in motion. From the Military Times:

The Pentagon’s top two leaders testifying on Capitol Hill on Thursday dodged politically loaded questions about torture and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s unapologetic support for waterboarding and systematically targeting suspected terrorists’ family members.

As Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford were speaking before the House Appropriations Committee about the Pentagon’s latest budget request, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., put the two on the spot about Trump’s recent vow to reinstate the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that might be considered torture.

The lawmaker also asked about Trump’s call for targeting family members of suspected terrorists.

“A leading candidate for president is telling the American people and the world that torture works. He says he will use torture to help defeat [the Islamic State group] including things way beyond waterboarding,” McCollum said.

“He says he will order our military to take out the families of Islamic terrorists. And I assume that to mean directing the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to use men and women under your military command to intentionally kill innocent family members, including children,” McCollum said.

“Gen. Dunford: Do you support allowing U.S. troops or the intelligence community to use torture to exact information from suspected terrorists? Does the use of torture advance the military or national interest of the United States?” McCollum asked.

That was an OH SHIT moment, but Carter stepped in before the general could respond:

“Before the chairman answers the question, I really need to say something,” Carter said.

“I think the question is a fair question but … this is an election year,” he said.

“I feel very strongly that our department needs to stand apart from the electoral season so I respectfully decline to answer any questions that arise from the political debate going on,” Carter said.

“I want Gen. Dunford, especially even more so than me, to not get involved in political debates,” Carter said.

Carter urged McCollum to ask her question in a less inflammatory way.

There was no less inflammatory way, but we did get this:

“Let me answer the question broadly without getting into what Secretary Carter highlighted,” Dunford said.

“One of the things that makes me proud to wear this uniform is that we represent the values of the American people. And when our young men and women go to war, they go with our values. And I think our performance on the battlefield over the past decade-plus of war reflects that young men and women who go to war bring their values with them. And when we find exceptions, you have seen how aggressively we pursue addressing those exceptions.”

“I guess what I would say in response to your question is that we should never apologize for going to war with the values of the American people. That is what we’ve done historically, that is what we expect to do in the future. And again, that is what makes me proud to wear this uniform,” Dunford said.

Not good enough:

McCollum ended the exchange, saying “Mr. Chairman, I’m assuming the values of the American people do not include torture.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Joseph Dunford are probably pretty pissed right now, but in the Thursday debate Trump did say he’d give the order for torture and the order for our folks to kill the appropriate women and children – “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” Then he added this – “I’m a leader. I’ve never had any problems leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” The audience cheered.

That was clear enough, but the next morning, the senator who had once been a military lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s office, decided to make more trouble:

In a letter Friday to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sent a series of inquiries about the nature and spirit of the Pentagon’s views on whether the United States should intentionally target the families of terrorists, as Donald Trump had advocated until Friday. …

“Recently, questions have been raised about the tactics that have been employed to fight the War on Terror. It has been suggested that the United States should intentionally target terrorist families, including children, who are noncombatants as a reprisal,” Graham wrote to Gen. Joseph Dunford. “It has also been suggested that the United States go back to waterboarding and if necessary, use more extreme interrogation techniques.”

Graham then listed a set of questions, asking Dunford whether “the intentional targeting of noncombatant family members of terrorists is legal under the law of war,” as well as the impact such targeting would have on the overall war effort.

“Additionally, please share your views as to whether waterboarding or other extreme interrogation techniques are authorized and legal for the United States military? What impact would their use have on the war effort?” Graham asked. “Finally, if issued orders to target noncombatants, including children, or to use waterboarding or other extreme interrogation techniques, would you view these orders as lawful? In addition, what advice would you provide to service members if such orders were issued? I appreciate your input and thoughts on this matter. I look forward to working with you to continue to defeat those who seek to destroy our way of life.”

Lindsey Graham despises Donald Trump and was just twisting the knife. General Dunford was simply caught in the middle. Dunford cannot choose political sides in any circumstance, but what are you going to do, say that the likely Republican presidential candidate has been advocating war crimes and no one could follow his orders? That would be choosing sides. That is strictly forbidden. He’d be busted down to private, and Rush Limbaugh would eat him alive. Damn, that Trump fellow can cause no end of trouble.

That Trump fellow could also rescue him, and surprisingly he did:

Even President Donald J. Trump would follow the law. That was Mr. Trump’s acknowledgement on Friday, when he reversed course on his vow to kill the families of terrorists and to torture terrorism suspects if he is elected president, saying he now recognized that such actions would violate international law. …

“I feel very, very strongly about the need to attack and kill those terrorists who attack and kill our people,” Mr. Trump said Friday in the statement released by his campaign. “I know people who died on 9/11. I will never forget those events. I will use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies. I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters.”

He added: “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”

What? This probably confused those who love Donald Trump for his strength and his refusal to be “politically correct” about anything and everything. He was being politically correct here, and legally correct of course. Now he will not order any military officer to disobey the law, but he said he would, just the night before, and said that was what leadership is all about. He has some explaining to do.

But he’s still got this:

Physical violence at rallies for presidential contender Donald Trump has become a troubling trend – and perhaps it persists because the GOP front runner does nothing to stop it from happening.

This was reinforced Friday when Trump insinuated he even enjoys it. According to CBS New York, Trump told an audience in Michigan that a melee between a protester and rally-goers in New Hampshire was “really amazing to watch.”

Trump, who is currently the controversial front runner, told his audience he was tired of “political correctness” when it came to handling frequent protests at his campaign events. When interrupted by another protester, he again seemed to encourage violence.

“Get him out,” Trump said according to CBS. “Try not to hurt him. If you do I’ll defend you in court.”

Then he said, “Are Trump rallies the most fun? We’re having a good time.”

Trump said a protester started “swinging and punching” when rally-goers “took him out.”

“It was really amazing to watch,” he said.

This is just one of many incidents including that one in December in Las Vegas. His fans at a rally yelled “Sieg Heil” and “light the motherfucker on fire” at a black protester who was being physically removed by security staffers. It happens at every rally. People tune in to see if anyone will get beaten to death on live television, and at the National Review, David French sees this:

Two sets of political and cultural arsonists are on a collision course – the angry fringe leftist who lives to disrupt versus the angry fringe Trump supporter who is begging for a fight. And when two sides are itching for a confrontation, they usually get it. …

It would be painfully easy for leftist activists to position themselves close to a group of strategically-chosen Trump supporters, initiate a disruption, and then resist the instant the crowd tried to push them out. A racially-charged brawl would be endlessly replayed on the nightly news, complete with injured, bleeding victims and national tensions would start to boil over. …

So far, the far Left has trained most of its fire on its more moderate allies. That could soon change, and if it does… we could see the worst political violence since 1968.

Kevin Drum says it’s simpler than that:

I don’t really buy the “worst since 1968” line, but there’s not much question that both the protesters and Trump are eventually headed for violence. Trump wants it because it will make him look tough. His supporters want it because they hate the hippies. And the protesters want it in order to show just what a fascist Trump really is.

At this point, the game is to make sure the other side gets the blame when this happens. So the question is: who’s going to show the most discipline? Because in the public eye, whoever throws the first punch will be the one who started the violence. This is a high-stakes media game that depends on a rotating cast of completely random actors – and that makes it potentially pretty scary.

Yes it does, and Slate’s Jamelle Bouie reports from another Trump rally:

Behind him, a man held a sign that read, “Veterans to Trump: End Hate Speech against Muslims.” The crowd, estimated at 8,000 people, could see the man and the sign and started to yell. “Get him out!” said some attendees. “Throw him out!” yelled others. Trump noticed and voiced the anger of his supporters. “Get the hell out,” he said, as security removed the protester. The crowd booed and cheered and chanted (“USA! USA!”), and Trump continued with his address, moving – as usual – to attacks on immigrants, Muslims, and foreign countries.

Trump continued as normal, but he was interrupted again. This time, he could see the protesters as they were hauled out by security. And this time, he had a little more to say. “You know what they used to do to guys like that in a place like this?” he asked the crowd. “He’d go out in a stretcher.” His audience cheered. A moment later, he went further: “You know we’re not allowed to touch him? The police are touching him gently and he’s smiling and he’s having a good time. I’d like to punch him in the face.” Again, the crowd went wild.

Something odd is going on here:

It’s true that elections inflame passions. And that the anonymity of crowds can breed the worst in people. But the violent rhetoric and violence of Donald Trump’s campaign is unusual. You don’t see this kind of behavior with other candidates, whether it’s Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton on the left or Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio on the right. When they face protesters or hecklers, they deal with them in a polite, civilized way. Cruz will even make a joke about the First Amendment, praising the protesters for using their constitutional rights.

But while the violence around Trump is unusual, it’s not surprising. Trump’s entire appeal is built around aggression and, yes, violence. To call for mass deportation, for example, is to entertain and endorse state violence. To back waterboarding and recite violent fantasies of wartime revenge against Muslims is to do the same. Donald Trump isn’t just running as a man who “makes deals,” he’s running as a nationalist and a bully who will humiliate the nation’s adversaries – actual foes like Iran, as well as alleged ones like China and Mexico – and restore America’s symbolic manhood.

When Donald Trump says, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” he’s not just talking about a particular protester. In a speech laden with attacks on other countries for “stealing jobs” and on whole groups of people as dangerous and suspect, an open wish for violence is the subtext of Trump, made text.

The good news is that we’re still far from serious violence. But watching and observing Trump and his supporters, I’m afraid we’re not far from when that becomes a possibility. What happens if Trump begins to lose and starts to lash out against opponents? Or if he becomes the nominee and suddenly is met with concerted opposition from the people – Latino immigrants, Muslim Americans, even black Americans – who he has attacked and demagogued? Will the Trump movement restrain itself? Or, following their leader, will those backers respond with their hands in fists?

That is actually inevitable when Trump’s appeal is built around aggression and violence, and his reversal on torture and on killing every member of a suspected terrorist’s family, including the children, especially the children, will only make these folks angrier – perhaps at Donald Trump now.

Michael Hayden wrote that book about playing to the edge, but no further – but what if that “edge” is no more than a line drawn by “quaint” laws and wimpy political correctness? Donald Trump has long said there’s no edge, and then he suddenly said there was one, in this one case. Who’s going to believe him now? He’s lost control of the forces that he unleashed. This will not end well, if it ends.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Beyond the Edge

  1. BabaO says:

    Fascism as a pure political philosophy originated by Italian college professors in the 1920’s. Mussolini, and subsequently Hitler, found uses for that philosophy as initially imagined for those very purposes. However, Mussolini merely made the trains run on time and had no interest in destroying an entire people. He would have liked to have recovered Italy’s former colonies in Africa and made his navy the arbitrator of the Med., his Mare Nostrum In these goals he had the full cooperation of Italy’s industry, but granted it no real political power. Hitler simply took over industry by installing a master overseer (Speer and others) who held absolute power over what was to be built, manufactured, and when.
    In this country, fascism, while often represented to be something akin to the street hoodlums of Hitler’s Brownshirts, that is really just a lazy media template. Actual fascism is what America had become by the 1950s. And with little violence – and then only “union issues”. Instead we got the pure, high-test stuff, (as President Eisenhour pointed out): a full-on co-op of industry and government, with industry (the wealthy) more or less openly controlling who gets elected (or selected) to what office or position. Someone with Trump’s chutzpah might have been a much-needed breath of fresh air. But sadly, his breath is at once uncouth, foul and rancid. He is a Brownshirt forerunner – but an entertaining one. His adherents are not.

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