Pentagon Downplays National Security Concerns From Trump’s Diagnosis
…and some experts say they’re probably right
Top Pentagon officials on Friday morning moved quickly to dispel fears that President Donald Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis has put the United States at greater risk from attack by foreign adversaries or required any emergency shifts in the U.S. defense posture, Defence One has reported.
Alarmist and inaccurate reports that the United States had launched nuclear command-and-control planes in connection with Trump’s Thursday diagnosis quickly proliferated on Twitter, while on cable networks and news sites, national security analysts said the diagnosis put the United States into “uncharted territory” and “deep into the danger zone.”
“There’s been no change to DoD alert levels,” top Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement issued Friday morning. “The U.S. military stands ready to defend our country and interests. There’s no change to the readiness or capability of our armed forces. Our national command and control structure is in no way affected by this announcement.”
Hoffman also denied reports that the E-6B TACAMO aircraft placed on alert status were related to the diagnosis. According to U.S. Strategic Command, which has authority over the country’s nuclear arsenal, the flights were part of pre-planned missions and the timing was “purely coincidental,” Hoffman said.
But the panic exposed a brittle national confidence in the nation’s political and defense resilience amid an increasingly chaotic and frightening year. Even as White House officials insisted that Trump was experiencing only “mild” symptoms and that he would continue to carry out his duties as president “without disruption,” analysts raised a host of concerns: That the command and control of America’s nuclear deterrent would break down. That adversaries, perceiving the United States as vulnerable and distracted, would take aggressive action against U.S. interests. That Trump would mislead the public about the severity of his illness.Get all our news and commentary in your inbox at 6 a.m. ET.email
“It seems like a uniquely American pathology to think that the president is suddenly sick and now some unnamed adversaries around the world are going to try something,” said Stephen Wertheim, the deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute and a scholar of foreign relations and the international order at Columbia University.