According to reporting by CNBC on Friday Donald Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act, allowing him to recall to active duty up to 1,000 Air Force pilots. The language of Executive Order 13223 was amended to allow Trump greater latitude in declaring a national emergency, thus enabling him to recall not just retired members of the Air Force, but every branch of the military. The authority to do so has been delegated to Secretary of Defense General Mattis, who can then delegate further to each branch of the armed services.
According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short approximately 1,500 pilots. The CNBC story says this action is being taken in anticipation of increased military action in Afghanistan, but the leeway given to the president is extremely concerning. The painful lesson we have come to learn over the recent decades is that once power is given to the Executive Branch, it becomes extremely difficult, if not darned near impossible, to get it back.
It is equally troubling that Trump can unilaterally grant himself such authority without any input or constraint by Congress. Are we on the brink of an Imperial Presidency, with Congress being as useless as screen door on a submarine. Or perhaps a better analogy would be to the Senate in Rome after Caesar Augustus declared himself Emperor.
But what if the military action being planned is not in Afghanistan? What if Trump actually intends to carry out his threats against North Korea? Certainly the first branch of the military involved in any kind of warfare on the Korean peninsula would be the Air Force. Which means they need more pilots. Lots and lots of pilots.
But there is another scenario that comes to mind that is equally disturbing. With the Mueller investigation closing in on him, healthcare reform has gone down in flames, and prominent Republican leaders, including former President George W. Bush are calling out his ineptitude as our nation’s leader, Trump is quickly becoming a cornered animal. And cornered animals are dangerous.
Some of the readers of this article may recall my recounting memories of working on Capitol Hill during the Watergate scandal in previous articles. There was a real fear among people serving in D.C. that, if forced to turn over the White House tapes, Richard Nixon would declare martial law and nationalize the National Guard. Fortunately, for the us and the nation, Nixon never took that step.
But what is to stop Trump from doing the same thing? All he needs is the slimmest pretext to declare martial law and mobilize thousands of retired military, both officers and enlisted, back into service. It is a little-known fact in history, but during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeus corpus. Which meant people could be imprisoned indefinitely. Trump could not only do that, but claim precedent based on Lincoln’s action.
It is difficult to determine which course is the more terrifying – war with North Korea (even if it does not involve nuclear weapons) or our country being placed in a state of martial law.
But if you can come up with a better explanation for this amended executive order, I, for one, would love to hear it.