by Gordon Adams
I am not a religious person. But as I watched the streaming of the March for Our Lives on Saturday, I was returned to my childhood reading of the Old Testament. These impressive young people were articulating simple truths, common sense the extremist National Rifle Association (NRA) hates to hear: background checks should be universal; assault weapons have no place in private hands; arming teachers is not the answer. These are things the Trump administration does not want to hear, either. But they are simple, make sense, are easy to do, leave the Second Amendment intact, and are not “extremist” at all.
These are our children, like our sons, David and Tim, my daughter Caitlin, and our three wonderful grandchildren—Isaac and Asher Cutler of Cheverly, Maryland, and our newly born grandson Cooper Clarice Kooken in New Orleans. Their lives are the ones now at risk.
They are certainly threatened by the rampant, unchecked distribution of firearms in this country, where more guns per capita completely correlate with death by shooting—in contrast to every other industrial country in the world with common-sense gun control.
But there is an even broader threat to their lives, all of our lives, from the new national security team in the White House. Another, even broader gun-control movement is needed in America today requiring the same kind of truth-telling and courage these young Americans have shown in facing down the extremists of the NRA. With the appointments of John Bolton as national security advisor and Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, extremists have now taken virtual control of US national security policy. And our grandchildren’s safety is at even greater risk.
These new national security officials are extremists in the same sense that the NRA is. Pompeo has had full-throated support from the NRA since his first congressional campaign in 2010, when he was elected as a Tea Party supporter. Bolton is such a determined extremist gun supporter that he served on the NRA’s international committee and even taped a video calling on the Russians to do what the NRA has done in America—try to put an unregulated gun in the hands of every Russian citizen. But for both, the endorsement of violence goes beyond gun ownership. Both advocate the use of lethal military force to solve international problems, the way they seem to think more guns would solve our domestic ones.
There are no “restraining hands” left to hold Trump back from his suicidal international impulses. Two of these—Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster—were already doubtful restraints. Mattis has been an extreme critic of Iran for some time (though he did urge the president not to abandon the nuclear agreement). McMaster leaned in too far supporting Trump’s impulses, to his discredit as a serving military officer. I won’t even talk about John Kelly, who seems to encourage the madness, not restrain it. I worried when uniforms were first appointed about the wisdom of surrounding an erratic, impulsive, poorly informed President with military officers.
The really extreme war hawks, however, are now in command. Pompeo has already advocated striking Iranian unclear sites with military force and suggested regime change as the way to deal with North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. John Bolton has vigorously supported military action against Iran and against North Korea for years and thinks regime change is the answer in both countries. Bolton may be the last national security “expert” alive who continues to think it was a good idea to overthrow Saddam Hussein, a strategic error that was critical to the unraveling of security across the Middle East. Both are likely to advocate that Trump withdraw the US from the nuclear agreement with Iran.
The threat to our security from the profligate willingness of these two new appointees to use America’s military first is self-evident. Striking North Korea’s nuclear capabilities is not only likely to fail, it is exceedingly likely to unleash a conventional artillery barrage on Seoul that would cause thousands of deaths and, in all likelihood, lead to a second war on the peninsula, necessitating the deployment of US forces and risking a confrontation with China. Withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran would reopen the Iranian nuclear program. Striking that program could easily unleash an Iranian response against US forces in the Gulf region and/or a missile strike on Israel (where Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has been urging a U.S. attack on Iran for more than a decade).
The “fun” that would follow these two military actions would be entertaining only to Russia, where Putin would enjoy watching the US humiliate itself. Americans, meanwhile, would watch the body bags return while neither regime had changed and the regions around them turned even more solidly against the United States (a trend already well underway as I documented in a recent essay for the Foreign Policy Association).
There is no indication that either Pompeo or Bolton supports diplomacy as a part of the national security toolkit. Bolton has been scathing about the United Nations, even when he was serving as US ambassador to that institution. And Pompeo will preside over a seriously weakened State Department, an institution for which the president apparently has no love, with little prospect of reviving it or increasing its resources. The result will be that the US military becomes even more the instrument of choice in US foreign policy, another trend already well established in the way the US conducts its national security policy.
These appointments and the militarized policies that they advocate will embolden Trump, play to his “tough guy” side, and endanger our security and that of our children and grandchildren. Their views are not common sense. They are dangerous nonsense, which has now firmly taken hold in the administration. The world I want for my grandchildren will be at risk, just as it is threatened by extremist views on gun control. Youth today has responded to the shooting crisis. It is time for adults to step up in defense of our security.
Gordon Adams is emeritus faculty from American University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center. He oversaw national security budgets in the Clinton White House from 1993-97. He is a father and grandfather. Photo of DC demonstration (Lorie Shaull via Flickr).