According to the EU Institute for Security Studies, a coup can be carried out by just 2 per cent of a country’s military. This is an uneasy thought, given what has been happening at the Pentagon in recent days.
Concern began mounting on Monday, when President Trump fired his Defence Secretary, Mark Esper. Firing defence secretaries is hardly new ground for Trump, but taken in the context of a contested election result, it raised eyebrows. Reporting his dismissal, The New York Times header noted that Esper had opposed the use of troops on US streets. Whilst the article didn’t use the C-word, the implication was clear. Why would an outgoing president fire a defence secretary, unless they were an obstacle to the President’s plans?
Is Trump staging a coup?
More worryingly — but at the time of writing less reported, are the follow-up firings at the Pentagon. In the days following Esper’s dismissal, several high-ranking Pentagon officials have been replaced by Trump loyalists. Chief amongst them, the deputy undersecretary of defence for policy, James Anderson, was pushed out on Tuesday. His ‘interim’ replacement is Anthony Tata, a former Fox News contributor and deranged fantasist. Tata has accused Barrack Obama of being a Hamas agent, and believes in the ‘deep state cabal’. A man who once opined that the previous administration was trying to carry out a putsch against Trump is now acting as chief of policy at the Pentagon. This is certainly someone who believes in the possibility of a coup in America.
Two more civilian officials at the Pentagon — working in policy and intelligence — have also resigned or been fired over the past few days. These developments are making ‘senior Pentagon officials’ increasingly uneasy, with one describing them as ‘dictator moves’, according to CNN. Given their track record in the Middle East and Latin America, if anyone can spot a coup it should be the Pentagon.
Is a coup in America likely or imminent? The answer is probably no. Yet the very fact that anything other than a resounding repudiation of the notion is plausible should serve as a red alert.
The danger of keeping this in the dark
The defence department, along with the CIA, know that the removal of moderate voices within the military leadership is a prerequisite for an intervention in democracy. Henry Kissinger, in his role as national security adviser to Richard Nixon, personally suborned the kidnapping and murder of the pro-democracy Chilean Chief of Staff in 1970. Kissinger knew that his removal was vital for Pinochet’s coup to be a success. The Democrats should also be aware of what is going on. After all, Hilary Clinton cited Kissinger as a source of inspiration when she ran for president in 2016. Yet at the time of writing, President-elect Joe Biden continues to maintain radio silence.
Still, I will maintain that an attempt at a coup is unlikely. There are arguably too many good people around the President for the necessary planning to progress. But as long as Secretary of state Mike Pompeo continues to back Trump, and Republican officials in the contested swing states maintain that voter fraud has been committed, the risk remains.
The replacements at the Pentagon are undeniably ominous, and if Pentagon officials are concerned then we all should be. The odds are slim, but that they exist at all is troubling. Coups happen under the cover of darkness. Shining a bright light on the Pentagon right now would be wise.