JURIST Guest Columnist Benjamin G. Davis of University of Toledo College of Law adapts Leo Amery’s famous 1940 speech calling for the ousting of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for the age of Trump…
May I say that I agree wholeheartedly with what just fell from the lips of the hon. Maxine Waters of California as to the responsibility of the Opposition in playing a constructive part at this critical moment. The whole of America has a grave responsibility at this moment; for, after all, it is America itself that is on trial in this new form of war. If we lose this war, it is not this or that ephemeral Government but America’s institutions that will be condemned, for good and all. I fully realize that this is not an easy Debate. There is much that ought to be said which cannot well be said in public. After watching the G20 these days and not least the closing rebuke of Chancellor Merkel and the impressive commentary of Mr. Walter Shaub, it seems to me that the whole of recent events–not only in Hamburg, but the whole conduct of the war in Syria and in the Ukraine as well as the Russian sabotage of the American elections right up to date–calls for searching inquiry, not for one stray private sitting, but for a series of private sittings in which all that Americans can contribute of their private knowledge should be put into the common stock and frankly discussed.
Meanwhile, even to-day there is plenty that can be said, that ought to be said, and that must be said frankly; for there are no loyalties to-day except to the common cause. Yesterday, as a few days ago, Secretary of State Tillerson gave us a reasoned, argumentative case for the President’s meeting with the Russian President. President Trump demonstrated again a clear failure of will at a crucial moment. It is always possible to see such weakness in a leader after every failure. Spinning what happened in a meeting and leading America at war are not the same thing. Wars are won, not by explanations after the event but by foresight, by clear decision and by swift action. I confess that I did not feel there was one sentence in Secretary of State Tillerson’s briefing after the Trump-Putin meeting which suggested that the US Government either foresaw what Russia meant to do, or came to a clear decision when it knew what Russia had done, or acted swiftly or consistently throughout the whole of this lamentable affair. I am not going to discuss the reasons for the actual evasions. They may well have been conclusive in the circumstances. But the circumstances should never have arisen; and it is the story of those events–of the decisions, of the absence of decisions, of the changes of decisions which brought about those circumstances–which call for our inquiry and raise many questions which have yet to be answered.
We were told by Secretary Tillerson that the two Presidents agreed to disagree on the past and looked toward the future. Why was this done? For months we had been aware that the Russians had been cyberhacking the United States elections, destabilizing Ukraine, and acting against some of our Eastern European allies like Estonia. It is perfectly true that they spun their story better than we could sort it out. But was there any reason which would make us believe the story that they spun? Obviously the danger was there and develops into actuality at any moment. The President suggests that we could not know which of many sources of the hacking it might be. Surely we had some good reasons for suspecting which one it might be. The DNC e-mails had focused the interest of the whole world on Julian Assange and Wikileaks. A month prior to the election, President Obama’s intelligence services declared, speaking of the ongoing elections, that the danger to America–from Russia–proverbially “stands upon their very doorstep”. The Hillary campaign e-mails affair had before that showed clearly the illegal uses which Russia was prepared to make to tilt our election. What is more, within a few days of that statement Hillary Clinton in a debate decided deliberately to challenge Trump over his use of the Russian hacked documents. All the world knew that that was the main theme of her attacks on Trump in the days up to the election. After the elections with the sanctions deliberations of the National Security Council which met, I think, on 29th December, we went on to make the American position perfectly clear to the whole world, including Russia. Then President Obama laid out several sanctions and assured all that we have not yet reached the limit of our effective operations in cyberspace close to the Russians. That was sufficient warning. On that day the sanctions were put in place.
What did we expect to follow? Did we know Putin and his merry men so little as to think that their rejoinder would be slow or half-hearted, or that it would follow the lines of “too little and too late” with which we have been so familiar here? However, it was not a question of a Russian rejoinder at all, but of Russia making our half-hearted intervention an excuse for measures far greater in scope and far more daring than we seem even to have envisaged.
I understand that information as to this reached the Trump transition team as they entered the White House early in January 2017. Was that aspect of the strategic situation considered? Again, it was known everywhere that Putin had designs on Eastern Europe. Was it not obvious that the first stroke must be directed against Ukraine, not only because they were weaker, but because once Putin had seized Crimea, the east of Ukraine was automatically within his power without the need for conquest? I would ask another question: Is it not a fact that the most direct warnings of Russia’s designs against Ukraine were sent from both Kiev and during the Ukrainian President’s hurried visit to the White House in June? I am afraid that what really happened was that, while he thought he was taking the initiative in the Minsk accords to help save Ukraine, the initiative, such as it was, only coincided with a far more formidable and far better planned initiative of Russia to bring Ukraine into a Russian sphere of influence with American acquiescence.
I remember that many years ago in East Africa a young friend of mine went lion hunting. He secured a sleeping car on the railway and had it detached from the train at a siding near where he expected to find a certain man-eating lion. He went to rest and dream of hunting his lion in the morning. Unfortunately, the lion was out man-hunting that night. He clambered on to the rear of the car, scrabbled open the sliding door, and ate my friend. That is in brief the story of our position in the Minsk accords after the G20. In any case, even if we did not realize that the Russians were acting at the same time, why were we not prepared to meet their inevitable counter-stroke? We had only this weak President Trump, without preparation, with no clear agenda for the meeting with President Putin according to what the National Security Advisor McMaster has told us with no readiness to counter the Russian backed efforts against Eastern Ukraine. There was no plan to meet the contingency that Russia might seize Eastern Ukraine as well or to meet any really serious attack by Russia on Ukraine or other Eastern European countries. As we know now, the Russian backed forces are active in the Donetsk, and are in readiness for the zero hour when all the Russian forces under guise of the Minsk accords are to strike to regain control of all the Ukraine and afterward Eastern Europe.
In this setting, we have President Trump demonstrating a callow and supine subjugation to his Russian counterpart. Whether in Syria, in the hacking, or in Eastern Europe Trump acquiesced to Putin’s strategic initiative with little care for its impact on the US and our democratic allies.
What I would say, however, is this: Just as our peace-time system is unsuitable for war conditions, so does it tend to breed peace-time statesmen who are not too well fitted for the conduct of war. Facility in debate, ability to state a case, caution in advancing an unpopular view, compromise and procrastination are the natural qualities–I might almost say, virtues–of a political leader in time of peace. They are fatal qualities in war. Vision, daring, swiftness and consistency of decision are the very essence of victory. In our normal politics, it is true, the conflict of party did encourage a certain combative spirit. In the last election we found that the most perniciously aggressive of our candidates, candidate Trump, was not only aggressive in words, but was a man of action but action toward what vision? America First or America Alone as we see after the G20. Or America beholden to Putin’s schemes.
In recent years the normal weakness of our political life has been accentuated by a coalition based upon no clear political principles. It was in fact begotten of a false alarm as to the disastrous results of Obamacare. It is a coalition which has been living ever since in a twilight atmosphere between Repeal and Replace and between unprepared collective security and unprepared isolation. Surely, for the last 10 years to have bred a band of warrior statesmen would have been little short of a miracle. We have waited for six months watching this new Trump Administration dismantle US leadership and the miracle has not come to pass. Can we afford to wait any longer?
Somehow or other we must get into the Government men and women who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. Some 370 years ago, when the United Kingdom House of Parliament found that its troops were being beaten again and again by the dash and daring of the Cavaliers, by Prince Rupert’s Cavalry, Oliver Cromwell spoke to John Hampden. In one of his speeches he recounted what he said. It was this: I said to him, ‘Your troops are most of them old, decayed serving men and tapsters and such kind of fellows.’…You must get men of a spirit that are likely to go as far as they will go, or you will be beaten still. It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered. We are fighting to-day for our life, for our liberty, for our all; we cannot go on being led as we are by President Trump with his incoherent vision and weakness of spirit in facing the challenges that confront us. I have quoted certain words of Oliver Cromwell. I will quote certain other words. I do it with great reluctance, because I am speaking of a President elected by my fellow Americans many of whom are old friends and associates of mine, but they are words which, I think, are applicable to the present situation. This is what Cromwell said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.
President Trump, In the name of God, Go.
Benjamin G. Davis, professor of law, is a former member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Law and National Security. He is a Founder of Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions. Davis led the adoption of the 2006 American Society of International Law Centennial Resolution on Laws of War and Detainee Treatment. Davis is an international expert on topics such as cyber dispute resolution, drones, detainee treatment, military commissions, torture and international law. He is a graduate of Harvard College (BA), Harvard Law School, and Harvard Business School (JD/MBA).
Suggested citation:Benjamin Davis, President Trump, in the Name of God, Go., JURIST – Forum, July 12, 2017 – http://jurist.org/forum/2017/07/Benjamin-Davis-president-trump-in-the-name-of-god-go.php
This article was prepared for publication by Dave Rodkey, Managing Editor for JURIST. Please direct any questions or comments to him at email@example.com
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.