Any use of the military as part of an effort to overturn the November 3 presidential election’s result – that proclaimed the Democratic candidate Joe Biden as the winner – would take the US into “dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory,” the ten ex-Pentagon bosses said in a jointly signed opinion piece published by Washington Post on Sunday. The Associated Press described the warning as “an extraordinary rebuke” of Trump.
This rebuke came from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, James Mattis and Leon Panetta and echoed some of the theories and fears voiced by Trump’s Democratic rivals. However, the president has never publicly spoken of involving the military in his dispute over alleged election fraud, and other than an anonymously sourced report by the New York Times, there has been no suggestion that he’s done so in private, either.
Despite there being no proof of Trump mulling to drag the military into his election fight, the incendiary warning seemingly helped fuel the perception that there was legitimate cause to raise a red flag, in the same way a loaded question (“when did you stop beating your wife?”) can imply wrongdoing.
The defense chiefs’ warning “means someone in the White House has asked at some point about using the military to overthrow the vote,” lawyer and writer Amee Vanderpool said on Twitter. Another observer said, “imagine what it took” for 10 former Pentagon chiefs to write such an article “This should (be) a red alarm to everyone. We are being attacked from within.”
Ironically, it’s Democrats who have repeatedly spoken out about involving the military or federal law enforcement in the transition of power to President-elect Biden. In fact, Biden himself said in June that the military would escort Trump from the White House if he lost the election and refused to leave.
Three days after the election, Biden’s campaign issued a statement saying that the US government “is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Some Democrats have suggested that the authorities shouldn’t wait until Biden’s January 20 inauguration to remove Trump. Esquire magazine political editor Jack Holmes is among those who have called for Trump to be ousted through impeachment or the 25th Amendment “before he can do more damage.”
Like Sunday’s Washington Post article, an October comment by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may have fed speculation that Trump is inclined to use the military to stay in power. “There is no role for the US military in determining the outcome of a US election,” Milley said.
But while claiming there is no role for the military in domestic politics, the former defense secretaries took the liberty to express opinions about the latest election. For example, the group suggested that Trump’s allegations of massive election are invalid, saying the outcome of the contest is clear. “The time for questioning the results has passed,” the signatories said.
And speaking of selective hands-off vs hands-on, the Washington Post said the idea for writing the warning story stemmed from a conversation between Cheney and Eric Edelman, former undersecretary of defense for policy and ambassador to Turkey. Edelman is a fierce anti-Trumper who was among about 120 “members of the Republican national security community” who signed a joint letter in 2016 vowing to oppose a Trump presidency.
The letter added that transfers of power need to be smooth because they come at a time when adversaries may be looking for a chance to “take advantage of the situation.” Washington officials said last week that they’re on heightened alert for an Iranian attack on US forces or interests.
But some observers were skeptical of the implication that Trump wants to call in the military. “I trust Trump more than those 10 sec defs,” one commenter tweeted. “Straw man alarmists,” another observer said.
Others pointed to the irony of people such as Cheney and Rumsfeld suggesting that Trump is dangerous, after all the death and destruction they helped bring about in such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’m surprised they had enough time to type this joint message up with all the blood on their hands,” one commenter quipped.
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