Bumblers in the Trump bunker: A raid gone wrong

    Men walk amid the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike on the outskirts of Sanaa

    Men walk amid the rubble of a house destroyed by a Saudi-led airstrike on the outskirts of Sanaa

    Unless your head is buried so deep in the ground that you can see our Australian enemy, the latest news about Trump’s anti-terrorist raid in Yemen should come as no surprise:

    U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations. As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced Al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger-than-expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

    Without sufficient intelligence … A Navy SEAL died, others were injured, and children were killed. Yup, this is what happens when a celebrity buffoon with a bunker mentality gets the power of life and death. Right away, U.S. military sources started leaking to the press about his screwup. Odds are, this kind of thing will happen again and again. But don’t worry, Trumpkins, those lost factory jobs will be back in America any time now.

    In a statement last Sunday, Trump hailed the Yemen raid as a “success,” and on Wednesday, propaganda minister Sean Spicer gushed that the raid yielded “an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil.” But it appears — I know this will come as a shock — that Trump and Spicer were peddling alternative facts.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    A senior military official tells NBC News that “almost everything went wrong.” A senior intelligence official says: “We went in with the intent of capturing phones and computers, and we don’t know yet if anything of great value was obtained.” And while Spicer claimed that “this was a very, very well-thought-out and executed effort,” a military official tells Reuters that on-the-ground surveillance of the terrorist compound was “minimal, at best.”

    Granted, counterterror operations are high risk, and bad stuff happens. But when a president OKs a raid “without sufficient intelligence” or consultation with the National Security Council’s terror experts; when he gets decisional input from people who have no business being at the table (in this case, his son-in-law and his white nationalist hack)…well, that’s when bad stuff is most likely to happen.

    President Obama had weighed stepping up raids in Yemen, but no decision had been made by the time the torch was passed to Trump. The new Defense secretary, James Mattis, and Joint Chiefs chairman Joseph Dunford Jr. reportedly discussed the option with Trump over dinner on Jan. 25. The only other people at the table were Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

    Fred Kaplan, a veteran national security reporter, picks up the narrative:

    Officials told me that Trump approved the plan then and there. The next day, the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee — an interagency group of deputy and undersecretaries from various Cabinet departments -held a meeting to discuss the plan. But, as one official put it, the meeting was ‘pro forma and irrelevant,’ as the decision had already been made …

    Given [the decision’s] significance, one might also have thought that Trump would vet the issue through the Deputies Committee and possibly the Principals Committee, which bring in the perspectives, interests, and unique expertise of senior civilian, military, and intelligence officials …. Trump didn’t avail himself of these resources.

    Trump is known for making decisions with the small group of his trusted advisers, mainly Kushner and Bannon, sometimes with the addition of his national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. But this latest snap decision is raising eyebrows from many observers.

    Here’s the thing: If Obama had ever ordered a raid that devolved into a bloody firefight, with military and intelligence sources questioning the raid’s value and dissing his decision-making process, rest assured that candidate Trump’s eyebrows would’ve risen to his hair. He would’ve ranted that Obama was a disaster, that we never win anything anymore, that he would be smarter.

    The military is still investigating what went wrong in Yemen, so we’ll probably learn more. But this episode, though small in the scheme of things, prompts us to wonder how Trump will respond when an unplanned crisis hits his desk. Is this guy capable of understanding that he needs broaden his circle of advisers, far beyond the son-in-law and the Breitbart hack? Heck, is he capable of hanging onto our allies, never mind dealing with enemies?

    Peter Feaver, a national security expert who served in that capacity for George W. Bush (and an invaluable source for me during that era), gets the last word: “One of the criticisms that was leveled against Trump on the campaign was that he was inexperienced and so would have a steeper learning curve than another Republican candidate might have had, and these kinds of stumbles are the things those critics had in mind, myself included. This is the kind of thing that people warned about.”

    I’m sure you’ve heard the latest from alternative factess Kellyanne Conway. About how the Muslim travel ban will lessen the odds of domestic horrors like “the Bowling Green Massacre.”

    Were you aware of terrorist carnage in Kentucky? I must’ve missed that one.

    But I would like to attend the next memorial service, because I hear Frederick Douglass is gonna speak.

    Seriously, I do have a major announcement today:


    Wait, I need to clarify that:

    I’m staying. It’s the trolls who are leaving. In fact, they’re already gone.

    NewsWorks, following the lead of NPR (and many others, including Reuters, CNN, The Week, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times), has made the decision to terminate the comment board. Not surprisingly, management has concluded that the vast majority of comments were not of significant value to the vast majority of our audience. I could make the point far more pungently.

    The miniscule share of readers who made great use of the comment board have other options. They can take their discussions to social media. NewsWorks is on Facebook. I’m on Facebook. I post my column there every day, and commenters always weigh in. The best and brightest comment board regulars might want to join.

    As for the trolls, the downside of Facebook is twofold. They’d have to man up and use real names, and they would be critiqued by people who are far smarter and who do not tolerate fact-free juvenalia. But if trolls view that as a deterrent, I will simply say:

    Buh bye.

    By the way, any reader who feels strongly about something, and wants to write about it on NewsWorks, can submit op-eds, letters, and personal essays to speakeasy@whyy.org. And this interactive page is fun.

    And, as always, thanks for reading my daily labor of love. Onward!

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal