Given the understandable attention paid to the two runoff races for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, to President Trump’s seditious attempt to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” 11,780 votes in order to gain Mr. Trump the victory in the Georgia presidential election, and to Congressional Republicans’ traitorous scheme to keep Mr. Trump in the White House by challenging certain states’ certified Electoral College votes when the College’s Electors’ votes are opened and announced in Congress today, another item has perhaps gotten less heed than in my view it warrants.
On January 3, the ten living former U.S. Secretaries of Defense — Ashton Carter, Richard Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld – published a Letter in the Washington Post entitled, “Involving the Military in Election Disputes Would Cross into Dangerous Territory.” While Mr. Cheney, as a former U.S. Vice President, was the headliner in some accounts describing the Letter, it seems to me that the two most noteworthy signatories are Messrs. Mattis and Esper, who worked closely with Mr. Trump, and of the ten Secretaries presumably best understand his mental patterns — particularly Mr. Esper, who publicly distanced himself from Mr. Trump’s use of the military in a publicity stunt last June that included the use of chemical agents on peaceful American protestors in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square and, perhaps ominously, was relieved as Secretary only days after the election. (The most significant aspect of Mr. Cheney’s execution of the letter may stem from the likelihood that he is receiving briefings on the President’s state of mind from his daughter, U.S. WY Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House.)
There is a link to the Letter below. After observing that “The time for questioning the [presidential election] results has passed,” the Secretaries write, in pertinent part:
“Efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic. …
Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates … are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.
We call upon them, in the strongest terms, to do as so many generations of Americans have done before them. This final action is in keeping with the highest traditions and professionalism of the U.S. armed forces, and the history of democratic transition in our great country.”
To state the obvious: no group of Defense Secretaries has ever felt it necessary to publish such a Letter during any other interregnum, at least not during my ever-more-lengthy lifetime. Think what you will of their politics, these men are accustomed to confronting adversaries, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, who abide by no rules. They are highly intelligent and skilled at discerning what any enemy’s next move might be in any situation, and determining the most effective countermeasure. I would suggest that the very fact that these men have published this Letter indicates that they have concluded that President Trump has not only the instincts but perhaps the aspirations of a fascist dictator. One can infer from the Letter that they are anticipating the next steps Mr. Trump may contemplate if he doesn’t stop his quest to retain the presidency after the Electoral College votes are announced and ultimately accepted by Congress.
Given the contents of their Letter, it appears tenable to suppose that the Secretaries have focused on a point that I mentioned in these pages some months ago: although the Proud Boys and other aberrant groups can spread a certain amount of havoc while protesting the President’s departure from office, these kinds of groups are of little use to anyone seeking to overthrow a government as entrenched as ours; a dictator can’t be a dictator without the support of a real army. Given Mr. Trump’s conduct of the presidency and his willingness to put pressure on Mr. Raffensberger in a blatant, unbalanced, and obviously doomed overture to change the outcome of the Georgia presidential election, it hardly strains credulity to suspect that Mr. Trump has expressed to White House and Congressional intimates the notion of declaring Martial Law when – as it seems it inevitably will be — Mr. Biden’s victory is announced in Congress at the end of today’s proceedings. The Secretaries obviously considered it advisable to get Mr. Esper’s replacement, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who by statute is in the chain of command between the U.S. military and the President as Commander in Chief, thinking about his duty to the Republic before, rather than after, the Congressional proceedings today – in the event that the President hereafter calls upon him to perform acts that the Secretaries have labeled dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional.
Hopefully, Mr. Miller is savvy and patriotic enough to have quietly had trusted outside counsel advise him as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.
I declared in these pages last week that unless Mr. Trump acted in a manner before Inauguration Day that constituted a substantive threat to our Republic, I was turning him off. If these former Secretaries of Defense are sufficiently concerned to publish the Letter they have, I consider it prudent to continue watch. Paranoid? Hopefully. That said, President Richard Nixon reportedly once told Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev that he respected what Mr. Brezhnev said, but made policy based upon what Russia did. Based upon what Mr. Trump has both said and done, I would submit that we relax our guard at our peril. It certainly appears that ten former Secretaries of Defense agree.