Saturday September 26, 2020
Senior Pentagon leaders have a lot to worry about these days — Afghanistan, Russia, Iraq, Syria, Iran, China, Somalia, the Korean Peninsula. But chief among those concerns is whether their commander in chief might order American troops into any chaos around the coming elections.But that has not stopped an intensifying debate in the military about its role should a disputed election lead to civil unrest.Last month, two retired Army officers published an open letter to General Milley on the website Defense One. “In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your constitutional oath,” they wrote. “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.”
President Trump gave the officials no solace this week as he hedged when asked to commit to a peaceful handoff of the reins of government should he lose the election. Coupled with his expressed desire in June to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to send troops to quell Black Lives Matter protests, his comments have incited deep anxiety among senior military leaders, who insist they will do all they can to keep the armed forces out of the elections.
“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers last month. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S. armed forces in this process.”
Pentagon officials swiftly said such an outcome was preposterous. But senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking among themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president until Inauguration Day no matter what, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets.
Several Pentagon officials said that such a move could prompt resignations among many of Mr. Trump’s senior generals, starting at the top with General Milley.