Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former Pentagon and NSC staffer, now at the Center for a New American Security, has a a must read essay about how those of us in the national security establishment have created an environment in which Trump is allowed to use claims of "national security" as a magic word to avoid scrutiny on questionable actions. The most recent example, is the Supreme Court's upholding of the Trump Travel Ban in Trump. v. Hawaii. Despite the fact that "a long list of bipartisan national security, intelligence, and military officials agree" that there is no national security justification for the travel ban, the Supreme Court upheld it:
Why does the national security community need to take responsibility? According to Loren, our own actions have created an environment in which these claims can't be questioned:It’s just bigotry disguised as national security, the Twitter-verse said Monday. How could the Supreme Court endorse it?And there’s the rub. The Supreme Court goes out of its way to not rule on the boundaries on the president’s national security prerogatives; Justice Roberts notes, in his majority opinion, that “our inquiry into matters of entry and national security is highly constrained” and its expertise is limited. What constitutes a national security justification for deference to the executive is historically out of the hands of the judiciary and instead the remit of the national security community itself. While the despicable policies of the Trump administration are on its own conscience, its path was partly cleared by the good intentions of national security professionals, themselves.
Natsec professionals never meant to build a smirking priesthood that avoids questioning of its actions, but we did. Every conversation we halted with an “I know more than you, national security, you realize” laid the groundwork for avoiding close scrutiny of our actions. Every email we overclassified for convenience. Every policy we didn’t trust to the general public. Every airstrike we refused to acknowledge. Every security theater we performed at airports. Every new agency we mustered some half-hearted excuse to create. Every covert program we developed to avoid the absence or inconvenience of congressional authority. Every detainee we kept from receiving basic rights. Every former servicemember or official who parlayed their rank into a gig as a cable news national security or military analyst despite lacking any experience or training in analysis. Every partial release of intelligence to support our preferred narratives. Since 9/11 we’ve made everything about national security and national security about everything, a well-intentioned impulse to close ourselves off from threats and the smallest risks. Yes, we worked hard to protect the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, but weren’t quite clever enough to prophecy someone like Trump would take our precedents and stretch them to the max.Read it all here.
We drank our own Kool-Aid, believing toughness meant inscrutability and the American people didn’t deserve to know what we knew. We claimed “national security” as a means to avoid explanation and transparency, believing that even a minor check weakened the credibility of our profession, until the parameters of national security became so flabby and insecure as to absorb Trump’s “religious animus.” We share the blame for this.
President Trump has made national security justifications a staple of his practice of policy, a craven sort of politics that makes us less safe and demands loud condemnation. But the national security community created the environment in which such arguments would be heard with a straight face.