America must leave politics out of the military in this heated election

With a week left and millions of Americans who have already voted, this election cycle faces challenges unlike any which the United States has dealt with in living memory. President Trump has raised doubt over the legitimacy of our elections since his candidacy, a bewildering narrative that persists in the campaign trail. The peaceful transition of power, the bedrock of our republic, is sacred even with trying times in history.

Another foundation for our republic is the role of our armed forces. The Constitution states, “Congress shall have the power to raise and support armies” and the power to declare war and dictate the governing rules of the services. Those armed forces must operate on the faith of Americans, whose taxes fund the military, under the supreme law of the land.

Nowhere in the Constitution, a living document that serves as the blood and bones of our country, is the military authorized to participate in the transition of executive power. There are cases in this election cycle that support the military pursuing such ends, forcibly removing the outgoing president, instead of the judicial and legislative branches. Joe Biden has used such dangerous rhetoric when he said he is “absolutely convinced” the military would escort Trump from the White House if he wins.

The notion that our armed forces could be employed in a vague capacity following the election foments uncertainty over the relationship between civilians and the military. The summer deployment of military members on domestic soil under the Insurrection Act to dispel protesters against racial injustice marked an instance. This move, whether it was authorized or not, harmed the foundation of trust between civilians and the military.

Carl Clausewitz said, “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” These haunting words ring solemn. Yet the faith of Americans is built on trust that service members follow the Constitution above all. “Americans trust our military with policy influence most democracies would not with the professional ethos of subordination is so ingrained,” Kori Schake and James Golby argued against the military in the transition of power.

The relationship between civilians and the military bridges the deep and terrifying chasm. Despite a widespread perception, the military is not an apolitical institution. Our service members have not given up their voting rights or political preferences, insofar as those actions will not appear to be active endorsements. That is the special trust which allows for service members to use their rights without public fear of a military coup.

Yet our candidates continue to insert politics with the military. Trump has lambasted Pentagon leaders with claims that they perpetuate foreign wars to support defense contractors. This implies that generals, rather than our elected leaders, are responsible for the decisions of war and peace. In this strange competition to insert politics with the military, Biden attempted to bolster his defense standing with a campaign tale about his heartbreaking moment in Afghanistan in a verifiably false swirl of inaccuracies.

The military is more political than it seems with the dueling endorsement lists of retired generals and the use of the service members as props even when this is not the official intent. Yet every time the commander in chief heads into the field, or if a candidate visits our service members, they are used as props. But it is the context in this era that is concerning.

This election has tested the independent foundation of the military. We stand over a dark chasm if course corrections are not made. History will be as unkind to the United States as any country that allowed politics to infiltrate the ranks of the military. The United States has always decried such actions in other countries, notably the military involvement in the transition of power. That these possibilities are even considered for this election demonstrates how much the climate has changed today.

Ethan Brown is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in Washington and a veteran of the United States Air Force Special Operations. He is online @LibertyStoic.

National Security