On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer for a loss of “trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor.” Esper demanded the resignation after finding out from President Donald J. Trump that Spencer had gone to the White House behind Esper’s back to propose a secret deal with the administration. The decision to oust the Navy’s boss was the correct call.
Spencer’s expulsion was another chapter in the ongoing saga of Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher. The Navy SEAL was accused of committing several war crimes, including murder, during a 2017 deployment. He was acquitted of most of the offenses after another sailor claimed responsibility for the killing. But Gallagher was charged with bringing discredit upon the armed forces by posing for a photo with the corpse of an ISIS combatant. He was reduced in rank and sentenced to four months in prison — which was already met with time served.
At that point, Trump intervened and demanded Gallagher’s rank be restored. While the Navy complied, the order didn’t sit well with top brass. Following Trump’s demands, Naval Special Warfare commander Rear Adm. Collin Green announced he was convening a Trident Review Board, essentially to strip Gallagher of his Trident — the coveted SEAL qualification pin. Aware the move would be perceived by most as presidential defiance, Green apparently had full approval from higher-ups to use the board to punish Gallagher.
Trump’s response was to publicly rebuke naval leadership by announcing last Thursday on Twitter: “The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. The case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!”
It was at that point Spencer jumped his own chain of command to signal to White House officials he would ensure Gallagher retired with both rank and Trident intact if the administration would allow the review board to convene.
Trump is right. The entire situation has been handled poorly. The president should not be micromanaging military discipline; however, that doesn’t mean he cannot intervene if he so chooses. As commander in chief, he exercises supreme control over the armed forces. If he issues a lawful order to the military, it must be obeyed.
Presidents have come and gone. Some have been good for defense, others not so much. But the military chain of command has remained intact. Until now. Navy leadership’s public defiance of a commander in chief they appear to despise is far more damaging to good order and discipline than Trump’s micromanagement of one chief petty officer’s disciplinary problems.
— Robin Beres