WASHINGTON — More than 280 retired diplomats, generals and senior national security officials on Friday called on President Donald Trump not to use the U.S. military for political ends, warning American democracy was at risk.
“As former American ambassadors, generals and admirals, and senior federal officials, we are alarmed by calls from the President and some political leaders for the use of U.S. military personnel to end legitimate protests in cities and towns across America,” the former officials said in a statement posted on the JustSecurity website, which listed the authors as retired senior diplomats Douglas Silliman, Deborah McCarthy and Thomas Countryman.
“We are concerned about the use of U.S. military assets to intimidate and break up peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C.,” they wrote, citing recent incidents that played out this week outside the White House.
“Using the rotor wash of helicopters flying at low altitude to disperse protestors is reckless and unnecessary,” it said.
“The stationing of D.C. Air National Guard troops in full battle armor on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is inflammatory and risks sullying the reputation of our men and women in uniform in the eyes of their fellow Americans and of the world.”
Titled “The Strength of America’s Apolitical Military,” the statement was signed by dozens of retired ambassadors with decades of experience in the diplomatic service, including ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, as well as more than 20 retired generals.
The sharp rebuke of the president coincided with similar warnings issued this week from former senior officials and retired military officers, including retired Gen. Jim Mattis, who served as defense secretary under Trump until he resigned in 2018. Mattis accused Trump of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.
“Our military is composed of and represents all of America,” the authors wrote.
“Misuse of the military for political purposes would weaken the fabric of our democracy, denigrate those who serve in uniform to protect and defend the Constitution, and undermine our nation’s strength abroad.
“There is no role for the U.S. military in dealing with American citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech, however uncomfortable that speech may be for some,” the statement said.
The issues that have prompted the protests cannot be addressed by the military and can only be resolved “through political processes,” they wrote.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military forces to respond to protests or rioting, even though President Trump has threatened to send in troops to states that he believes are failing to quell unrest.
President Trump on Monday threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military troops to respond to protests. As he spoke, federal officers used force to clear peaceful protesters from outside the White House.
In a memo to Defense Department personnel dated Tuesday and first reported by NBC News, Esper stressed the importance of staying away from politics. "As I reminded you in February," he wrote, "I ask that you remember at all times our commitment as a department and as public servants to stay apolitical in these turbulent days."