The post-election environment gets more bizarre every day, and forces seeking to influence that environment pop up in the most unusual places.
As you may be aware, President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper last week following a series of clashes on various issues such as Esper’s opposition to the use of active-duty troops to quell demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd, according to numerous media outlets including the Washington Post. It has also been suggested that Esper opposed the now-ordered troop draw-downs in Afghanistan and Iraq. So, with Esper out via tweet, the president appointed Christopher C. Miller as acting secretary of defense. Miller had recently been named director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
During Miller’s first days as acting defense secretary, he sent a memorandum to all Department of Defense employees that outlines his “goals while leading this organization.” Among other aspirations, he cited accelerating the activities of the DOD “to combat transnational threats.”
Further on in the memorandum, Miller made a unique sports invocation: “As we embark on this clear path forward, I often reflect on the simple, yet powerful, leadership mantra of the incomparable football coach, Bill Belichick, ‘Do your job’. We are a team, and that should be our mindset.”
As reported by The Hill, Belichick was asked for his reaction to the Miller memorandum: “Well, I really appreciate the kind words from Secretary Miller. … When you consider the type of leadership he’s shown throughout his career serving our country, it really means a lot. I’m flattered by the reference that he made.”
Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, who is of Croatian descent, followed his comments about the Miller memorandum by injecting himself into international politics. He discussed the human rights issues arising from the war being waged by Turkey and Azerbaijan against the Armenians. Referencing combating “traditional” threats, Belichick observed, “… I hope our country will take action against Turkey and Azerbaijan for their unprovoked and deadly attacks on Armenians. … We’ve seen that when a humanitarian crisis and things like that, like ethnic cleansing, go unpunished, that they just continue to happen. I hope we can put a stop to that.”
It should be pointed out that the Patriots’ director of football is Berj Najarian, an Armenian, and the Boston area has one of the largest Armenian communities in the country.
While a somewhat convoluted chain of events, from Trump’s firing of Esper to Belichick’s human rights plea, it is rather remarkable that Belichick, famously known for his vintage “coach speak,” would use his platform in a meeting with reporters following the Patriots’ defeat of the Baltimore Ravens to shed light on the plight of the Armenians.
The United States has always shied away from much more than talk when it comes to the ancient ethnic war Turkey has subjected the Armenians to. Reportedly, Ottoman Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians as part of a genocide campaign.
Both Obama and Trump consistently attempted to avoid the subject when it comes to substantive sanctions against Turkey because the United States needs Turkey on its side at all times, given those who reside in Turkey’s neighborhood, even at the cost of Armenian lives.
This situation presents a clear picture of a foreign policy dilemma that has faced every president: Do we do what is morally and ethically “right” and actively oppose those states that would abuse human rights? Or do we implement foreign policy decisions that are in the best strategic interests of the United States?
It is significant that a football coach, who is famously known for coldly keeping his eyes on the ball, would call out a president, or two, on a human rights issue, and condemn what is, without question, a cold and calculating foreign policy position.