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June 8, 2020 – Over the past week, hundreds of former Department of Defense and other national security officials have added their voices to the chorus of condemnation of President Trump’s militarized response to the demands for justice and displays of solidarity in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Former officials have penned op-eds, signed open statements, and taken part in media interviews to denounce Trump’s attempts to stifle the demonstrations by again misusing the U.S. military as little more than a political prop on American soil. 

Benjamin Haas, Former Army Intelligence Officer, and Kori Schake, Former Pentagon and State Department Official: A war does not exist between our military and American citizens, and the Trump administration should stop attempting to manufacture one (…) The image of soldiers controlling America’s streets and engaging in law enforcement activity is evocative of the conduct of authoritarian countries from whom the United States takes pride in maintaining a distinction. Human rights abusers worldwide — traditionally admonished by the United States — must be reveling in America’s eroded credibility. [The Washington Post, 6/08/20]

General Colin Powell, Former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: I mean, look at what [Trump] has done to divide us. Forget immigrants, let’s put up a fence in Mexico. Forget this; let’s do this. He is insulting us throughout the world. He is being offensive to our allies. He’s not taking into account what our foreign policy is and how it is being affected by his actions. . . .And the one word I have to use with respect to what he’s been doing for the last several years is a word I would never have used before, I never would have used with any of the four presidents I have worked for: He lies. He lies about things. And he gets away with it, because people will not hold him accountable (…) I think he has not been an effective president. [CNN State of the Union, [6/07/20]

Admiral William McRaven, Former Commander, Special Operations Command: This fall, it’s time for new leadership in this country — Republican, Democrat or independent. President Trump has shown he doesn’t have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief. As we have struggled with the Covid pandemic and horrible acts of racism and injustice, this president has shown none of those qualities. The country needs to move forward without him at the helm. [The New York Times, 6/6/20]

Former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter, and 86 Other Former Senior Defense Department Officials: While several past presidents have called on our armed services to provide additional aid to law enforcement in times of national crisis — among them Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — these presidents used the military to protect the rights of Americans, not to violate them. As former leaders in the Defense Department — civilian and military, Republican, Democrat and independent — we all took an oath upon assuming office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as did the president and all members of the military, a fact that Gen. Milley pointed out in a recent memorandum to members of the armed forces. We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans. [The Washington Post, 6/5/20]

Over 500 Former Senior Officials from America’s Diplomatic, Military, and Broader National Security Community: 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…Declaring peaceful protestors “thugs” and “terrorists” and falsely seeking to divide Americans into those who support “law and order” and those who do not will not end the demonstrations. The deployment of military forces against American citizens exercising their constitutional rights will not heal the divides in our society. Ultimately, the issues that have driven the protests cannot be addressed by our military. They must be resolved through political processes. [Just Security, 6/5/20]

William Perry, Former Secretary of Defense: I am outraged at the deplorable behavior of our President and Defense Secretary Esper, threatening to use American military forces to suppress peaceful demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights. This is a deeply shameful moment for our nation. [Twitter, 6/4/20]

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General John Allen, Former Commander, NATO ISAF Forces: The slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment. The president’s speech was calculated to project his abject and arbitrary power, but he failed to project any of the higher emotions or leadership desperately needed in every quarter of this nation during this dire moment. And while Monday was truly horrific, no one should have been surprised. Indeed, the moment was clarifying in so many ways. So mark your calendars—this could be the beginning of the change of American democracy not to illiberalism, but to enlightenment. But it will have to come from the bottom up. For at the White House, there is no one home. [Foreign Policy, 6/3/20]

General James Mattis, Former Secretary of Defense: Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society …. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. [The Atlantic, 6/3/20]

James Miller, Former Member of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board and Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy: On Monday, June 1, 2020, I believe that you violated that oath. Law-abiding protesters just outside the White House were dispersed using tear gas and rubber bullets — not for the sake of safety, but to clear a path for a presidential photo op. Anyone who takes the oath of office must decide where he or she will draw the line (…) If last night’s blatant violations do not cross the line for you, what will? Unfortunately, it appears there may be few if any lines that President Trump is not willing to cross, so you will probably be faced with this terrible question again in the coming days.” [The Washington Post, 6/2/20]

Admiral Mike Mullen, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:  This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership (..) I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief. I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes. Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods. They are not “battle spaces” to be dominated, and must never become so. Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized. [The Atlantic, 6/2/20]

We are Americans—former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders—who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org