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President Donald Trump addresses members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan. President Donald Trump addresses members of the military during a surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Afghanistan, Bagram Air Field, Nov. 28, 2019 (AP photo by Alex Brandon).

The Many Questions Trump’s Pardons Raise About Civil-Military Relations

Monday, Dec. 2, 2019

When President Donald Trump granted pardons to two Army officers—one convicted of war crimes, the other accused of them—and reversed the demotion of a Navy SEAL who was convicted of posing with the corpse of an enemy combatant, he exposed several troubling ambiguities about civilian-military relations in the United States. Civilian and uniformed defense officials feel most at ease when the dynamics of their relationship are clear-cut, with formal and tacit assignments of roles and responsibilities that leave little room for uncertainty. In practice, though, things are rarely so black and white.

There is only one certainty so far in the drama unfolding over the pardons: that Trump, as commander-in-chief, can legally order the Navy to cease an administrative review and allow Eddie Gallagher to remain a Navy SEAL. The many other questions of civilian control raised by this incident are gray areas. ...

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