Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Retired flag and general officers' free speech

Lt. Col. Daniel Maurer
West Point's prolific Lt. Col. Daniel Maurer has written an engaging Just Security essay on "The Generals' Constitution." Excerpt:
[The] norm [of "stoic regard for lawful civilian orders even into retirement years"] has been more the exception than the rule since President Trump took office, with former generals and admirals very publicly criticizing his policy choices as commander-in-chief, his temperament, and even raising alarms of a constitutional enemy on the horizon. Senior generals and admirals remaining on Active Duty may feel duty-bound to work within the system quietly but professionally, rather than resign in protest. They also have professional incentives to remain silent unless facing a manifestly illegal order. Even if speaking out ostensibly as a concerned fellow citizen, the public may take cues about military issues from senior leaders but often laypersons don’t sufficiently distinguish between comments offered by retired flag officers and those currently in charge (each conflated with “the military’s perspective”). What’s more, some retired senior leaders feel compelled to speak as a sort of proxy or surrogate, when the nature of the “threat” is more ambiguous.
Lt. Col. Maurer concludes with nine worthwhile questions for further discussion. Here's one:
Are there meaningful differences between comments made by retired officers signing only for themselves and comments made in a jointly-signed comment or opinion? On June 5, 89 former defense officials (including four former secretaries of defense) signed an open letter. Of the signatories, only 13 were retired flag officers. Only two of the 13 were from the Reserves or National Guard; only five of the 13 were of the 3- or 4-star rank. All were from the Army or Air Force. Also on June 8, over 500 former defense, diplomatic, and intelligence officials signed an open letter, only 33 of whom are retired generals or admirals (5 of whom were of the 3-star rank, and there were no 4-star generals or admirals). Moreover, 55 retired flag officers signed a different letter, calling for “votes for change in November,” that focused on the erosion of the public’s trust in the military, stressed that the military is to be “above the partisan fray,” and condemned the use of the military to “undermine the constitutional rights of peaceful protestors.” 

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