Trump has overseen a steady transfer of power from the White House to the Pentagon
The moves are intended to empower the military at a tactical level
In his first six months in office, President Donald Trump has overseen a steady transfer of power from the White House to the Pentagon, handing off several warfighting authorities that previously rested in his hands – and those of past presidents of both parties – to the Pentagon and the commanders overseeing the US’ military campaigns.
The moves are intended to empower the military at a tactical level, bolstering the US’ intensifying fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups to praise from several current and former military officials.
But those efforts have also raised concerns about whether Trump expects to face the same level of accountability for military decisions he has kicked down to the Pentagon and have drawn attention to the inherent risks of downsizing the White House’s role in overseeing the US’ escalating military campaign against ISIS and al-Qaeda and its offshoots.
Trump’s most significant step in this direction came earlier this month when he empowered Defense Secretary James Mattis, a recently retired four-star general, to set troop levels in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon and the White House have downplayed the move by noting that Mattis can only act within the guardrails of the current US strategy in that country. But the move effectively empowers Mattis to send thousands more US troops into the warzone without the commander in chief’s signoff for the first time in a 16-year war that has spanned three presidents.
In Yemen and Somalia, Trump has given US commanders waging the fight against terrorist groups there more freedom to launch raids and offensive airstrikes without the White House’s OK by designating provinces in both countries as “areas of active hostilities,” leading to a marked uptick in airstrikes in Yemen.
In Iraq and Syria, the President has also granted the Pentagon more freedom to manage troop levels.
Meanwhile, the White House’s National Security Council – which some at the Pentagon criticized as overbearing in the Obama administration – has seen its power diminished, leaving Pentagon officials to describe a more streamlined decision-making process with fewer White House-crafted hoops to jump through on some military decisions.
The CIA, too, has been empowered by Trump, regaining the authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists – actions President Barack Obama chose to personally authorize via the military.