The Military Revolt Against Joe Biden
An open letter by former officers calling the president a “Marxist” dictator is a greater threat to U.S. democracy than the ouster of Liz Cheney.
The ouster of U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney from the Republican leadership on Wednesday for the sin of telling the truth about former President Donald Trump may not be the most depressing example of partisan folly this week. No less sad, in my view, was an open letter signed by more than 100 retired U.S. general and flag officers that accused President Joe Biden of installing “a Marxist form of tyrannical government.”
This piece of appalling partisan invective was newsworthy mainly because it was signed by retired military officers who, in so doing, violated the norms of their profession and contributed to the erosion of healthy civil-military relations in the United States.
Perhaps we should not be shocked to discover that, at a time when American society is reeling from extreme partisan polarization—when significant numbers of prominent politicians are openly promoting falsehoods such as the bogus claim that Trump’s resounding defeat at the ballot box was due to electoral fraud—some fraction of the retired military community has fallen prey to the same myths. If a problem exists in civilian society, one can expect to see it in the military assigned to protect that society as well.
The letter’s content is not necessarily the issue. It is a dog’s breakfast of partisan hyperbole and misleading innuendo about the 2020 election of the kind that is ubiquitous in the darker corners of the internet and the worst fringes of the Republican Party.
What makes the letter so disturbing is that the 124 signatories are all retired members of a profession whose treasured principles demand that it be subject to civilian command and should remain separate from parochial partisan politics. This is a group of men—and it appears they are all men—who repeatedly pledged an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution and are now doing their level best to undermine it and, in particular, the crucial principle of civilian control.
In the letter, the group calling itself “Flag Officers 4 America” writes: “We are in a fight for our survival as a Constitutional Republic like no other time since our founding in 1776. The conflict is between supporters of Socialism and Marxism vs. supporters of Constitutional freedom and liberty.”
Though they do not clearly say they believe the 2020 election was illegitimate—as a majority of Republicans appear to believe—the signatories come close, and they question Biden’s “mental and physical condition.” They add: “Aside from the election, the Current Administration has launched a full-blown assault on our Constitutional rights in a dictatorial manner, bypassing the Congress, with more than 50 Executive Orders quickly signed, many reversing the previous Administration’s effective policies and regulations.”
This is the same group of retired officers who during the 2020 election declared that if Trump were defeated by Biden, “our historic way of life is at stake.”
One can find ample precedents for this sort of partisan behavior, especially by superannuated military retirees, throughout the years. Yet this instance is troubling because it comes at such a parlous time in American political history. With the embers of the Jan. 6 attempt to block the peaceful presidential transition still smoldering, this letter pours gasoline on the fire in a brazen attempt to ignite more unconstitutional challenges to the elected government.
Let’s be clear: The letter raises in passing some legitimate areas of policy debate, including ones on which senior military leaders, active and even retired, might offer some useful perspective. What risks should the United States undertake to manage Iran’s nuclear ambitions—are the risks entailed with reviving a too-weak 2015 nuclear deal worse than the risks of pursuing maximum sanctions that Iran will defy? Are there ways to provide security against another attack on the U.S. Capitol that impose less of a readiness burden on the military?
These are all topics I and countless other national security specialists have debated and are on the table today. Many senior military officers—though few who signed this letter—have relevant experience that renders their opinions especially worthy.
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