Back when he was a candidate, Donald Trump emphasized the need for secrecy and unpredictability in dealing with America’s foreign enemies, most notably, the Islamic State group (IS). So, it’s no surprise that the Trump administration has decided to stop announcing certain details about military deployments in Iraq and Syria. These details include “capabilities, force numbers, locations or movement of forces in or out of Iraq and Syria,” according to Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon. This new practice can greatly help our military’s operations succeed as well as keep our military personnel safe by limiting, to a degree, the enemy’s ability to gather intelligence and prepare for attacks beforehand. The American public has a right to know the general gist of where our government sends our military, and for what overarching purpose, so that we may hold the government accountable for the way it uses our armed forces. However, we do not need to know specific details, especially if keeping quiet about such details may help our military succeed.
The Obama administration continually announced details regarding when, where and in what numbers it had sent our armed forces to Iraq and Syria, and often shared details of what the deployed troops were doing, such as “training and assisting local forces” and preparing to retake the city of Mosul, Iraq from IS. These announcements represented the philosophy that Americans have a right to know what our armed forces are doing, and whether they will be put in harm’s way. However, information that is available to the public, especially when announced from the White House or Pentagon, is also potentially available to the enemy. It would be naive to think that IS and other terrorist groups aren’t paying attention to what our government says, given that they have cultivated a presence on social media for a few years now.
So the question is, do we, the regular citizens, need to know highly specific details about our armed forces’ operations? For Trump supporters, the answer is most likely a solid “no,” and so the Trump administration’s new practice of keeping mum about troop deployments makes sense. After all, why risk announcing to the enemy where our forces are going and what they’ll be doing, enabling the enemy to prepare beforehand? The policy change is also in line with Trump’s refusal during his presidential campaign to share details on his supposed secret plan for defeating IS. Secrecy and misdirection are vital for gaining advantages over an enemy in war, and many battles across history have hinged on the element of surprise. By limiting the enemy’s ability to know what our troops are doing beforehand, the Trump administration might end up saving troops’ lives, or helping them succeed where they might have otherwise lost if they didn’t have the element of surprise.
The flipside, however, is that not announcing troop deployments or other details about when and where our armed forces are being sent results in less transparency, which in turn makes it harder for citizens to monitor what the government’s doing and to hold them accountable if they misuse our armed forces. For those with friends or family members in the military, not knowing where they are, what they’re being used for or whether they’re in harm’s way can be agonizing. Furthermore, being kept in the dark about the details of the long, expensive wars we’re involved in, without an end in sight, can brew discontentment and distrust in the government, much like what we saw with the anti-war movement of the mid-to-late 20th century. Thus, there’s still a lot of value in scrutinizing and critiquing the Trump administration’s new policy of keeping quiet about troop deployments, despite the good it may do for our armed forces’ safety and the possibility of success in stamping out radical Islamic terrorism.
Ideally, the Trump administration should strive for a reasonable balance between secrecy and transparency. Americans want and ought to know some general, overarching information regarding where our troops are and what they’ll be doing, but we don’t truly need to know specific details, such as their deployment’s exact size or specific location, especially when the announcement of those details may give an unintended and dangerous advantage to our enemies. Although the Obama administration meant well by keeping the public up-to-date on the developing situations in the Middle East, the Trump administration’s more secretive approach to warfare will likely be more successful in the long run, so long as Trump does not abuse this policy or our armed forces. As long as this new policy is used wisely, the advantages it brings will be worth the reduction in transparency.