Few politicians either care enough or have the guts to vouch for warriors who find themselves embroiled in the complexities of the military justice system. President Trump stood up to Democrats, the media, and even his own secretary of the Navy to do just that.
The president’s decision to grant clemency (i.e., the disposition to be merciful and to moderate the severity of punishment) to three American service members — Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, and Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher — puts him firmly in the latter category, demonstrating that this president cares more about doing what is right than doing what is politically expedient.
Make no mistake: issuing those pardons came with a high degree of political risk. Almost immediately, former Vice President Joe Biden sought to politicize the issue, using it as an excuse to attack the President on social media.
“Trump’s intervention in the American military justice system to pardon service members accused or convicted of war crimes betrays the rule of law, the values that make our country exceptional & the men and women who wear the uniform honorably,” Biden tweeted, adding that Trump “is not fit to command our troops.”
One wonders whether Biden would apply the same standard to President Abraham Lincoln, who routinely pardoned Union soldiers condemned to execution by the military justice system for crimes such as desertion. Lincoln, too, faced pushback from generals and politicians who argued that his clemency would undermine military discipline, but he stood firm in his belief that individual circumstances did not always warrant the punishment handed down.
The president has applied the same reasoning to his own pardons, granting reprieves to service members he believes acted with the right intentions when faced with difficult circumstances. As the president noted, “when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.”
For career politicians like Biden, however, partisanship always supplants patriotism — and his hostile response to the President’s generous pardons clearly shows it.
Lorance could not have said it better when he opined that Biden’s reaction stemmed exclusively from political considerations.
“With all due respect to the former vice president, that seems to be a partisan answer,” he said.
Indeed, if Biden truly believes that President Trump’s pardons represent a threat to the rule of law, where was his outrage when President Obama granted clemency to Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who did irreparable damage to the nation, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking countless classified documents?
While our military justice system deserves much praise, no human institution is perfect or covers all situations. Like his war-time predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, Donald Trump recognizes that true justice sometimes calls for clemency. The president, as an experienced leader and compassionate commander in chief, also understands that clemency, mercy, and leniency can be applied to complex combat conditions, and can draw a distinction between the commission of horrific war crimes and judgments and actions on the battlefield.
Veterans, active duty service members, and all those who have yet to don the uniform can be grateful that President Trump has the conviction, courage, and compassion to stand behind his troops despite the political risks.
Donald Loren is a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral with 32 years of service in uniform.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.