In passing, during their most recent New York Times “Conversation,” Gail Collins and Bret Stephens wondered whether the American military would remove Trump from the Oval Office if he loses but refuses to go.
Stephens emphasized the importance of having a secretary of defense who puts the Constitution first, and dismissed the widespread belief that “the upper reaches of the armed forces are one uniform bloc of Trump voters.”
Most general officers I know are pretty moderate in their views and deeply committed to the idea of a depoliticized military and civilian control. I’m also guessing they weren’t exactly impressed by the bone spurs deferments.
Stephens also reminded Collins that most of the people who see Trump up close and personal come to really hate him, an observation supported most recently by the very public resignation of one Kyle Murphy from a position as a senior analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Murphy wrote about it for an industry publication, Just Security, “after experiencing firsthand the actions of U.S. government leaders to suppress nonviolent dissent during the recent nationwide protests for racial justice.”
But it was an open letter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, written by John Nagl, a retired Army officer and veteran of both Iraq wars, and Paul Yingling, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served three tours in Iraq, another in Bosnia, and a fifth in Operation Desert Storm that really displayed the commitment to the Constitution and civilian control that Stephens referenced.
That letter pulled no punches.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you are well aware of your duties in ordinary times: to serve as principal military advisor to the president of the United States, and to transmit the lawful orders of the president and Secretary of Defense to combatant commanders. In ordinary times, these duties are entirely consistent with your oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”
We do not live in ordinary times. The president of the United States is actively subverting our electoral system, threatening to remain in office in defiance of our Constitution. In a few months’ time, you may have to choose between defying a lawless president or betraying your Constitutional oath. We write to assist you in thinking clearly about that choice. 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.
Due to a dangerous confluence of circumstances, the once-unthinkable scenario of authoritarian rule in the United States is now a very real possibility. First, as Mr. Trump faces near certain electoral defeat, he is vigorously undermining public confidence in our elections. Second, Mr. Trump’s defeat would result in his facing not merely political ignominy, but also criminal charges. Third, Mr. Trump is assembling a private army capable of thwarting not only the will of the electorate but also the capacities of ordinary law enforcement. When these forces collide on January 20, 2021, the U.S. military will be the only institution capable of upholding our Constitutional order.
The letter–which I urge you to click through and read in its entirety–then proceeds to list the President’s criminal behaviors and to enumerate his efforts to subvert the election. Nagl and Yingling write that America’s political and legal institutions “have so atrophied that they are ill-prepared for this moment. Senate Republicans, already reduced to supplicant status, will remain silent and inert, as much to obscure their complicity as to retain their majority.”
At this moment of Constitutional crisis, only two options remain. Under the first, U.S. military forces escort the former president from the White House grounds. Trump’s little green men, so intimidating to lightly armed federal law enforcement agents, step aside and fade away, realizing they would not constitute a good morning’s work for a brigade of the 82nd Airborne. Under the second, the U.S. military remains inert while the Constitution dies. The succession of government is determined by extralegal violence between Trump’s private army and street protesters; Black Lives Matter Plaza becomes Tahrir Square….As the senior military officer of the United States, the choice between these two options lies with you.
For 240 years, the United States has been spared the horror of violent political succession. Imperfect though it may be, our Union has been moving toward greater perfection, from one peaceful transfer of power to the next. The rule of law created by our Constitution has made this miracle possible. However, our Constitutional order is not self-sustaining. Throughout our history, Americans have laid down their lives so that this form of government may endure. Continuing the unfinished work for which these heroes fell now falls to you.
When the rubber meets the road…..