The Slatest

Trump to Military: You Guys Love Killing Terrorists. What Do You Need My Permission For?

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. Navy and shipyard workers on board the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78 on March 2 in Newport News, Virginia.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Strange as it may seem, Donald J. Trump is, according to Article II of the Constitution, the commander in chief of the U.S. military. Judging by his interview with Time this week, he sees this as kind of a drag.

Trump has cut out much of the White House review process for strikes against terrorist targets in countries like Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, where the United States is not at war. Many in the military had been frustrated with how long this process could sometimes take under the Obama administration. Trump says that on his first night in office, generals came to him asking for permission to carry out a raid in Yemen. And then they kept coming to him with this stuff:

And this happened for two or three weeks, four weeks. And they keep coming to me, at weird times too. I don’t care about that.

Whenever Trump brings up something that he “doesn’t care about,” that’s usually a pretty good indication that he cares a lot about it: the fact that generals kept popping up at odd hours to drone some unsuspecting compound in Yemen seems to have irritated him.

Often, the president notes, the proposed strikes were in “parts of the world that most people have never even heard about,” which is about as close as he ever gets to admitting ignorance about something.

So I said to myself, I’m a believer in professionals, these people over there, whether it’s in Iraq or in Yemen or anywhere, Libya, they went to West Point, or wherever. Annapolis, they went to Air Force Academy.

I said to the general, I said how good. … The lieutenants, the captains, their majors, their colonels, they’re professionals. They love doing it, they know every inch of the territory, right. I say why am I telling them? So I authorized the generals to do the fighting. You know.

Basically: Why are they even asking me?

While some military commanders might be grateful for Trump’s hands-off approach, this disengaged attitude allows Trump to pass the buck whenever it’s convenient. When a military action gets good press, he’s quick to commend “my military” and take credit for giving them “total authorization.” When it’s criticized, it was just something the generals wanted him to do.