Former Obama-era Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey has expressed concern with President Trump’s threat to use active duty military personnel to quash protests, telling NPR that he finds the idea “very troubling.”
“The idea that the military would be called in to dominate and to suppress what, for the most part, were peaceful protests –admittedly, where some had opportunistically turned them violent –and that the military would somehow come in and calm that situation was very dangerous to me,” the retired general said.
According to Dempsey, the US military should be used only “in external wars,” and not in domestic policing. Maintaining “a relationship of trust” between Americans and the military is critical, the retired officer suggested, warning that “were we to lose the trust and confidence of the American people, it would make sustaining [an] all volunteer force more than difficult.”
The general clarified that while local law enforcement, including police, as well as the National Guard, were from the states where they were deployed, federal military forces generally are “not from among the people of a particular city,” and subsequently probably don’t “have a calming influence.”
“And so, you have to be very careful about the introduction of that force,” Dempsey stressed.
Commenting on President Trump’s back and forth war of words with former secretary of defense James Mattis, who recently accused Trump of being the “first president in [his] lifetime” seemingly deliberately trying to divide Americans, Dempsey urged elected officials and senior military leaders to “be very careful about how we talk about each other” right now, because America is living in “unprecedented times.”
Dempsey’s comments echoed those of some other former senior military officials, as well as lawmakers and political leaders on Capitol Hill. On Friday, former Clinton-era Defence Secretary William Perry warned that the “powerful” US military “was never intended to be used against American citizens, and it was never intended to be used for partisans political purposes.”
Trump shot back at Mattis on Thursday, saying he was “glad” to have fired the “world’s most overrated” general in 2019.
In addition to former military leaders and Democratic lawmakers, Trump’s comments and actions regarding the use of the military have been criticized by some members of his own party, with Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse accusing the president of “clearing out a peaceful protest” in Washington on Monday using police “for a photo op” in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church “that treats the word of God as a political prop.”
On Thursday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley accused Mattis of being out of touch with what’s going on in American cities, and indicated that when it comes to using the military to quell riots, “all options are on the table” for Trump, in accordance with his powers under the Insurrection Act of 1807.
Beginning in Minneapolis on May 26, one day after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests have spread across the United States. In some cases, the protests turned into riots, with buildings, vehicles and other property set on fire and rioters clashing with law enforcement and residents. As of Friday, at least 17 people have been killed, hundreds injured, and roughly 11,000 arrested.