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Should Retired Military Officers Endorse Presidential Candidates?

Many retired military leaders think that it would lead to dangerous politicisation of the military while others say that not speaking out was more dangerous than keeping quiet

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he speaks with retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn during a town hall in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Source: VOA
  • During the US Presidential election campaign, many retired military officials decided to show their support by endorsing their favourite presidential candidate at the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions in July this year
  • This week, Donald Trump’s campaign staff released a list to the public with 88 names of senior military officials who supported the Republican nominee, whereas, to counter that list, Hillary’s campaign staff released a list of names of 95 Senior military officials who support her
  • This led to a fresh debate on whether retired military officials should be involved in politics
  • Many senior military officials commented that this may lead to politicisation of the military, whereas, while some officials believe that not taking part would be more dangerous

September 8, 2016: Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn held nothing back as he gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in July, in support of the party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Flynn criticized President Barack Obama, the commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, as “weak and spineless.” He called Hillary Clinton “reckless” and “crooked.”

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And when the crowd began screaming for the Democratic nominee to be imprisoned, Flynn joined in. “That’s right. Lock her up,” said Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

While the speech clearly fired up those gathered in Cleveland, some of Flynn’s colleagues were not impressed, viewing it as a dangerous politicization of the military.

Retired General Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, slammed his former colleague in a letter to The Washington Post days after the speech.

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“The American people should not wonder where their military leaders draw the line between military advice and political preference,” Dempsey said. He also chastised retired Marine General John Allen, who gave his own passionate speech in defense of Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.

Competing lists

The speeches sparked fresh debate about whether retired senior military officers should become involved in politics. The issue has become even more relevant lately, as both Clinton and Trump roll out long lists of former admirals and generals who endorse their campaigns.

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Trump’s campaign staff released an open letter this week, signed by 88 former military leaders who said they thought the Republican nominee would oversee a “long-overdue course correction” in U.S. foreign policy.

Retired Gen. John Allen stands with veterans as he speaks on the final day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. Source: VOA
Retired Gen. John Allen stands with veterans as he speaks on the final day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016.
Source: VOA

Not be outdone, Clinton’s camp quickly responded with a list of 95 generals and admirals who support her, boasting that her list of endorsements was greater than that of any other recent Democratic nominee for president.

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The potential benefits of releasing such lists are obvious: They bolster a candidate’s national security credentials and help create the perception that the nation’s military leaders support the candidate, not the opponent.

Dividing line

But when military generals become highly partisan cheerleaders for political candidates, does that blur a necessary line between politics and the military? It depends on whom you ask.

Harley Hughes, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, laughed off the question.

“That couldn’t be more ridiculous,” said Hughes, who signed the letter in support of Trump. In Hughes’ view, not speaking out was more dangerous than any theoretical conversation about the relationship between politics and the military.

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“The stakes of this election are enormous,” Hughes told VOA. “We won’t have very many more chances to make mistakes. That’s why folks like me speak up.”

John Castellaw, a retired Marine lieutenant general who supports Clinton, said he was apolitical during his time in the military, but in retirement, he feels obligated to use his expertise for the good of the country.

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“I think it’s good for military people [to be involved in politics],” Castellaw said. “We tend to be analytical and methodical. We tend to think about what we are going to do before we take action. Our words in most cases are moderate and measured.”

Not illegal

It’s not illegal for retired military figures to enter politics. They have the same rights as any other citizen to run for office and to endorse or criticize those who are. Many retired military leaders have themselves run for elected office, even the presidency.

But some have made the argument that officers’ responsibilities extend into retirement, not least of all because they continue to be paid by the military and they keep their military ranks.

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That’s part of what seemed to upset many about Flynn’s and Allen’s convention speeches: They were introduced as generals and spoke as generals, not simply as “John” or “Mike.”

For many ex-military and intelligence officials, that amounts to a violation of a norm they are not so quick to break.

“I don’t think it’s good for the nation,” said Dennis Wilder, who retired in April after serving for over three decades in several senior intelligence and diplomatic roles. “It’s the precedent it sets.”

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“It wasn’t appropriate for 37 years, and it’s a habit I got into that I’m not getting out of just yet,” he told VOA. “The debate on foreign policy should stop at our shores. We shouldn’t be criticizing each other overseas. I don’t think it’s good for the nation.” (VOA)

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Trump views 50 years out of date, may trigger disruptive trade war: Paul Krugman

According to him, immediate issue is going to be confrontation not with China, but with Europe as the "steel tariffs" will hit Europe

human rights
Trump is not taking his responsibilities seriously: Paul Krugman. Wikimedia Commons
  • Paul Krugman criticises U.S. President Donald Trump
  • Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize winner
  • Paul says Trump’ actions can cause a war

Criticising the US President Donald Trump for his protectionists policies, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on Saturday accused President Trump of not taking his jobs seriously. Following the protectisists measures taken by the US President, there could be “risks of disruptive trade war”, he said.

President Donald Trump has pledged to avoid any new foreign business deals during his term in office.
President Donald Trump is heavily criticised. Wikimedia Commons

“He does not take the job seriously. He doesn’t say to himself that I am the most important official in the world; I have better do my homework for understanding the issue. ..He just goes that these are my gut feeling and hires people who make him feel good…that is a frightening prospect,” Krugman said responding to a query on his perception on Trump. On the economic issues President Trump’s gut feelings are “protectionist” and his views of America were “50 years out of date”.

“He wants America a heavy industrial country in the way it was when he was a young man. That is not just going to happen but he attempts to make it happen, which is extremely disruptive to America and to the global as a whole,” Nobel Laureate said. Krugman said he was until recently optimistic that Trump’s protectionist policies would not see the light of the day.

“Until about two weeks ago, I was quite optimistic that it would not happen. The reason was not because the President would get good economic advice but because the US businesses are invested in a globalised economy. All the investments the businesses have made is based upon the assumptions that the open trading system would continue. There is an enormous amount of fiscal capital and a large number of jobs are dependent on these value chains,” he said at the News18 Rising India Summit here.

Also Read: Trump Not Backing Down on Steel, Aluminum Tariffs

Krugman further said: “I had assumed the influence of these business communities would be sufficient… that it would not happen. I am less optimistic now…we have seen reasonably sensible Economic Council Head was fired, completely irrational tariff (was) imposed on steel and aluminium.”

The President also called for more mental institutions and hospitals in addition to the idea of arming teachers.
Krugman says these actions of President can cause a trade war. Wikimedia Commons

According to him, immediate issue is going to be confrontation not with China, but with Europe as the “steel tariffs” will hit Europe. He said there are possible risks of “disruptive global trade war”.

Speaking on Chinese economy he said, “China is a financial crisis waiting to happen. China is a widely unbalanced economy…the country is sustaining itself with a credit bubble that is waiting to burst…There is a significant risk of Chinese bubble burst.”