Senior Pentagon leaders are worried that President Donald Trump may use the military if any election chaos ensues, The New York Times reports.
The president has claimed that the election may not be accurate this year. He alleges mail-in ballots will cause the election results to be "fraudulent." He also hasn't promised to commit to a peaceful transition of power regardless of the election outcome.
His stance on the election, coupled with his previous threats to use troops to quell ongoing protests against social injustice under the Insurrection Act, have senior military and Defense Department leaders worried about whether Trump will insert the armed forces in any election fallout, the newspaper reports.
Top military leaders have made their position on getting involved in the election known. They want to stay out of it.
“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military,” General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in written answers to questions from House lawmakers released 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.”
But if protests challenging the election results begin popping up, many are concerned about what role the military will play. Defense Department officials told the newspaper there had been no preparations for sending active-duty troops into streets to handle any civil unrest.
“The main fear is that Portland is Off Broadway and that Broadway would be something here,” Derek Chollet, who served as an assistant secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, told the newspaper. “The idea is that you are going to have a lot of kindling out there and Trump is doing nothing to keep that from getting more flammable.’’
According to The Times, Defense Department officials have privately discussed the possibility of Trump trying to call on the military to respond to civil unrest related to the elections. Several Pentagon officials told the newspaper that if he does so many senior generals would resign, starting with Gen. Milley. They added that Air Force chief of staff, General Charles Q. Brown, likely wouldn’t carry out Trump’s orders either.
On Thursday, Milley repeated his position on keeping the military out of the election. He encouraged troops to “keep the Constitution close to your heart” during a video question-and-answer session.
Many experts say the military should be preparing for how to stay out of any election chaos.
“The planning they should be doing is how to prevent playing a role,” said Devin Burghart, the president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.
John Gans, who served as chief speechwriter to the defense secretary in the Obama administration, told the newspaper that the military doesn’t like to think about things it doesn’t want to do.
“The Pentagon plans for war with Canada and a zombie apocalypse, but they don’t want to plan for a contested election,” Gans said. “These are huge questions that have an impact on the reputation of the institution.”
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