William McRaven, a former admiral who was the architect of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, has written a short op-ed for the Washington Post demanding that Donald Trump revoke his security clearance, too, just as he revoked John Brennan’s.
What a deeply moving act of patriotism, to write an op-ed and ask Trump to do a thing that won’t harm him at all. McRaven is currently the chancellor of the University of Texas, a role which I imagine does not require much classified military intelligence to be performed effectively.
The Post’s Philip Bump outlined the reasons why former officials need to keep their security clearances, which essentially fall into two categories: things that might help the government (the current administration might need to consult with them on something, or they might sit on government advisory boards)—and things that will personally profit the clearance holder. As Bump wrote, many ex-officials “provide consulting services for which a clearance is at least an asset” for outside defense firms—meaning they get paid more money than most Americans earn in 10 years to say things like “yeah, this Yemen thing is really fucked up” to Raytheon once every six weeks.
There is a free speech issue here: The president is doing something to harm a critic for no other reason than because he criticized him. Trump should not have done this. It is arbitrary and dumb, and comes from the same part of his Swiss cheese brain that spits out the word “COLLUSION!” on Twitter like a broken cuckoo clock and that desperately wants to silence the loud chorus of criticism on Russia. It is also in no way the most pressing free speech issue facing Trump critics today; just one more important one would be the case of Manuel Duran, a journalist detained by ICE in the act of reporting, who only narrowly escaped deportation.
The Washington insider media class should think about whether their painful, urgent boner about John Brennan—who both oversaw and justified torture, and then lied about spying on Senate staffers who were working on the torture report—is because of their Commitment to Free Speech, or because it’s centered on the national security elites that they are so enamored of. It is this class that brought us takes like “John Kelly will save us from Trump because he is a Military Man and therefore loves Honor,” and “Trump truly became president when he brought out the widow of a Navy SEAL who died for an applause line.” It’s also this class that was deeply appalled when Trump wouldn’t say John McCain’s name at the defense bill signing. I cannot fathom getting mad about that; we should be naming our defense bills after people we hate, given that their legacy would then be tied to dead Yemenis.
The shit these people get themselves whipped into a frenzy about is so, so far detached from any of the Trump administration’s actions that tangibly cause pain, misery, and death for real people, at home and abroad, that you have to wonder if it’s because the vast majority of this segment of the media is also pretty detached from the populations most at risk from Trump. They’re mostly not Manuel Durans; they live in nice houses in Washington and go to the same nice restaurants as Sarah Sanders and Stephen Miller. This isn’t just a stylistic critique: Lionizing military figures, and acting like things like “I will give up my right to hear who we droned yesterday” are the most moving acts of patriotism simply because they come from A War Guy, makes it harder to advance broader critiques of American imperialism.
It’s bad for Trump to do arbitrary and capricious things to attack his critics. But I’d give my left arm for a media that has just a little bit more hesitancy in falling over itself to applaud the national security class at every turn.