Ex-Pentagon chiefs warns of civil interference in military operations
An open letter published by former US Secretaries of Defense and former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff contains a number of recommendations for maintaining good relations between military and civilian professionals.
Former US Defense chiefs published an open letter on Tuesday on the War On The Rocks website which details how political divisions in US politics are exerting pressure on the military personnel while stressing that relations between civilians and the military could further deteriorate in the future.
In order to prevent this, eight former defense secretaries and five ex-joint chiefs chairmen signed a statement on 16 "Best Practices of Civil-Military Relations."
"We are in an exceptionally challenging civil-military environment," they wrote.
"Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt," they said.
"Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better."
The statement did not cite any examples to illustrate civil-military tensions. Yet, it appears to be referring to the challenges faced by the 2020 election results by Trump and his supporters that led to the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol. As per the statement:
"Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transfer of political power was disrupted and in doubt. Looking ahead, all of these factors could well get worse before they get better."
The Pentagon has been accused of stalling the deployment of National Guard troops to confront the US Capitol attackers.
The Pentagon was chastised for its slow response during the January 6 attack on Congress by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, which resulted in five deaths and dozens of injuries.
Due to a slew of bureaucratic requirements, it took military officials more than three hours to deploy the National Guard to Congress as it was besieged by rioters.
On December 31, 2021, the Pentagon announced that it would streamline the process for approving the use of National Guard forces in Washington, nearly a year after the deadly attack on the US Capitol.
According to the Pentagon, the Secretary of Defense will now be "the single approval authority for all requests" for emergency use of District of Columbia National Guard personnel inside Washington.
Also during the Trump years, military personnel were asked to help in a number of non-traditional activities, including building a border wall and guarding the border against undocumented migrants, and helping police cities hit by violent protests.
Read more: How racism drove the Capitol attack: Congresswoman
In one incident, Trump had then-defense secretary Mark Esper and General Mark Milley, who is still the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walk alongside him in front of the White House after police cleared the street of people protesting the murder of a Black man, George Floyd, by police.
Both later expressed regrets they took part in what was widely labelled a political "photo op" for the president.
Under President Joe Biden, the military has been forced to undertake a haphazard and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan that senior Pentagon leaders did not agree with.
And Biden was widely criticized last week for giving a deeply political speech attacking Trump's supporters while two Marine guards stood behind him.
The officials stressed that the military leadership must accept orders even when they disagree with them, but said the orders must be legal.
"Regardless of the process, it is the responsibility of senior military and civilian leaders to ensure that any order they receive from the president is legal."
The statement was signed by defense chiefs under both Democratic and Republican administrations, including Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Mark Espe,r and James Mattis. The latter two served under Trump and were both fired after they clashed with the president.
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