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The dismissal of an American Naval aircraft carrier captain for trying to get the word out about the spread of the novel coronavirus among his crew, reeks of the politics of pleasing Donald Trump, according to some analysts.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly fired Captain Brett Crozier, skipper of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, after Crozier sent out an email to 20 to 30 people, to warn them that dozens of his crew had already become sickened by COVID-19.
Crozier’s email was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, although there’s no evidence that Crozier himself was the leaker.
To many Americans, Captain Crozier is an American hero.
“Crozier’s crew cheered him as a hero as he walked alone down the gangway, leaving what will almost surely be his last command,” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Democratic presidental candidate Joe Biden tweeted his support for Crozier.
Captain Crozier was faithful to his duty—both to his sailors and his country. Navy leadership sent a chilling message about speaking truth to power. The poor judgment here belongs to the Trump Admin, not a courageous officer trying to protect his sailors. pic.twitter.com/AkGFdlYjwt
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 3, 2020
Crozier appears to have been fired only because he inadvertently politically embarrassed Donald Trump, since at the time of Crozier’s email Trump was trying to downplay the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
As Ignatius reported in his column, “Modly told one colleague Wednesday, the day before he announced the move: ‘Breaking news: Trump wants him fired.'”
“I think the firing was a really bad decision, because it undermines the authority of the military commanders who are trying to take care of their troops, and significantly negatively impacts the willingness of commanders to speak truth to power,” retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Ignatius in an interview.
Max Boot, a well-known national security analyst who worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney–but has been a fierce critic of Trump–also sees something foul in Crozier’s dismissal.
“I understand the need not to widely publicize problems that hurt the Navy’s operational readiness, but the context is troubling. About a month ago, when Trump was still calling concern about the coronavirus a ‘hoax,’ the New York Times reported that Esper had ‘urged American military commanders overseas not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump’s messaging on the growing health challenge,'” Boot wrote in his own Washington Post column on the topic. “This was a dismaying directive that seemed to put politics above force protection. Now Crozier’s firing will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as another step in the politicization of the military.”
Counter-terrorism expert and former Naval officer Malcolm Nance went even further in defending Captain Crozier.
“It is his main duty, all right, and in his letter, where he said we’re not in combat, they weren’t on a wartime cruise, that they did not need to risk the lives of the sailors beneath him in his command,” Nance said in an appearance on MSNBC. “Let me tell you something, 150 years ago, commanders of these vessels used to have to make decisions themselves about whether they had plague on the ship or whether they were going to ports that had other diseases.
“Now they expect to have this permission come down from the acting Secretary of the Navy–notice I said ‘acting,’ because there is no Secretary of the Navy because the last Secretary of the Navy resigned when Donald Trump overrode his orders which impacted the good order and discipline of our sailors. Now we have war criminals who are pardoned and put back into the Navy ranks but a good captain loses his job,” he said, referring to the case of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. “This world is upside-down, and let me tell you, if I have anything to say about it, I think that Brett Crozier is a great candidate for the next Secretary of the Navy.”
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