The White House reportedly told the Defense Department that it needed to send away the the USS John McCain so that it was not around when President Donald Trump visited Japan. Named after Trump’s Republican critic, the ship had to be “out of sight” by the time Trump arrived for a visit to the Yokosuka base. Trump has denied knowing about the order, but did not say that he would find out who issued the order and fire them. The idea of White House staff dictating the movement of warships is extremely serious and the Navy should have refused. These warships have missions and are not props. Moreover, the people serving on these ships are not some collective pariah due to petty politics.
The McCain is an Arliegh Burke-class destroyer and part of the Destroyer Squadron 15 of the Seventh Fleet anchored at Yokosuka Naval Base.
I have actually long opposed the naming of ships (or other public properties) for politicians. I would love to see a ban on such practices. It is a way for agencies to curry favor and budget increases by appealing to the inexhaustible ego of politicians.
That however is not the issue here. According to the Wall Street Journal, in a May 15th email, an official at the US Indo-Pacific Command contacts US Navy and Air Force officials to note that the USS John McCain “needs to be out of sight” during Trump’s Memorial Day visit to Yokosuka base. The email sought confirmation that the demand “will be satisfied.”
One official said that he would seek more information from the White House so it appears that there were multiple communications made on this subject. It should not be hard to determine who gave his directive to the Navy.
The Journal published a photograph showing that McCain’s name was covered by a tarpaulin before Trump’s arrival and that sailors were ordered to remove any items with the late Senator’s name. However, the Navy said that the covering was removed by the time Trump arrived. It is not clear if the tarp was part of the original order. One report indicates that the tarp was used to fulfill the order to cover up McCain’s name but the action was later reversed. Yet, a barge was moved closer to the ship and blocked the name.
The tarpaulin idea was so ham-handed that one has to wonder if someone in the Navy had a wicked passive aggressive streak. The tarp would have attracted every reporter to the ship and frankly I would respect such a “be-careful-what-you-ask-for” response from the Navy.
This is all an utter disgrace. The acting Secretary of Defense denies knowledge of the order and the White House will not respond to further questions. I do not consider this to be a trivial matter. Moving warships and ordering sailors to conceal identifying features for political purposes is unacceptable. It is not simply petty politics. It is an abuse of power. The acting Secretary is saying that they are “looking into the matter.“
It was an allegation reminiscent of the “Fala” scandal where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was accused of sending a destroyer to retrieve his dog from the Aleutian Islands, an allegation that proved untrue and led to FDR’s famous Fala speech. This destroyer story however appears to be true and lacks a cute dog — just the protection of what staffers viewed as a raw and vulnerable ego.
Regardless of whether Trump ordered the move, the White House appears behind the disrespectful order. It not only made our service personnel into props but made our military look like fawning servants to the fragile ego of a leader. I have no reason to doubt Trump’s denial. This is not the type of thing that reached the Oval Office as an action item. However, that is not enough. Trump needs to pledge to find the responsible people and remove them from federal service.