Back in the days, soon to be close to 50 years ago, when Watergate was closing in on President Richard Nixon, his secretary of defense James Schlesinger and his secretary of state Henry Kissinger, established a kind of “nut with a nuke” watch. After word was out a possibly inebriated Nixon had been overheard talking assertively about his awesome power to kill a million people in a minute, an informal national security veto committee was put in place to be alerted in case any dangerous or irrational act of international aggression seemed to be on Nixon’s mind.
In this fourth year of the Trump presidency, with its unhappy ending clearly in threatening sight, it has been noted, there are no Schlesingers or Kissingers around this White House. Like ‘em or not, and frankly, I didn’t, these were formidable intellects and infighters – big boys.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper may be a genuine battlefield hero, but he finished 10 years in the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and he’s not likely to countermand an order from his Commander-in-Chief.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no check, but a coconspirator in many of his boss’ most aggressive international gestures, like the drone-delivered, mob-style hit on Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani.
Nobody stopped that, although reporting from Washington and foreign capitals suggests a consensus among government, military and foreign policy professionals that killing Suleimani was “impulsive and ill-advised and that it created many dangerous downsides and no upsides.”
Emile Nakhleh is the Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. He was for more than a decade a Senior Intelligence Service officer and Director of the Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World and Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing State. He has written extensively on Middle East politics, political Islam, radical Sunni ideologies, and terrorism.