No Room for Neutrality on Trump

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Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, June 18, 2016.
Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Las Vegas, June 18, 2016.Credit: David Becker, Reuters

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, published a manifesto last week to his officers and soldiers. Gen. Dunford pleaded with them to refrain from any involvement, and even from the appearance of involvement, in the presidential elections. “First, we must recognize that we have one commander in chief … until authority is transferred on January 20, 2017. Second, the Joint Force must conduct itself in such a way that the new administration has confidence that it will be served by a professional, competent, and apolitical military.”

It’s already almost a tradition. In the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections Dunford’s predecessors, Adm. Michael Mullen and Gen. Martin Dempsey, published similar articles, but the Donald Trump phenomenon deviates from the routine of candidates such Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Mitt Romney. It’s not a standard deviation, but a dangerous disorder.

Former generals and admirals appeared recently at the party conventions with declarations of support for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and even made the final lists of vice presidential candidates. Dempsey, since last year a civilian like them, this month expressed a fear that the public does not make such fine distinctions: “The freedom of speech argument is the one that is often invoked. But here’s the reality: Generals and admirals are generals and admirals for life.” He called on retired military officers to avoid public appearances in favor of the presidential candidates or opposing them.

Anyone who wants to run and be elected himself is invited to do so. (There’s no cooling off period). But in Dempsey’s opinion they should keep their political preferences to themselves. A senior officer, in or out of uniform, should be informed about politics but not involved in them.

Dempsey believes there is a threefold danger. The next president is liable to doubt the professionalism of the assessments and recommendations he receives from Dunford, from the chiefs of staff and from the directors of the various geographic commands; congressional relations with the military top brass will be poisoned; and political considerations will influence the appointments of senior officers as well (as though no such considerations existed until now).

So that in the name of remaining apolitical and without mentioning Trump’s name, Dempsey is suddenly moving to the shoulder of the main highway of the army’s duty to carry out the orders of the appointed political authority, and stressing, “As a matter of law, we follow the orders of the duly elected commander in chief unless those orders are illegal or immoral.”

Wealth is not necessarily happiness – it is sometimes also the opposite of honesty and competence. Trump proves every day that Obama was right and that he is patently unfit, mentally and emotionally, to govern a nuclear superpower. A black flag flies over his mane of orange hair. Already now he arouses the same feeling that caused Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger to ensure in the spring and summer of 1974 that the army would ignore the irresponsible orders of President Richard Nixon, the president who was frenzied by Watergate.

In 1972 Senator Thomas Eagleton was forced to withdraw as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate when he was discovered to have suffered in the past from depression, of the type that required psychiatric treatment, including electric shock therapy. The competence of the commander in chief and therefore also his potential successor must be beyond any doubt. His spouse can, if unavoidable (because the burden of the couple’s life is also liable to have a detrimental effect on the quality of the president’s decisions), require frequent hospitalizations and treatments; not he.

Compared to Trump, Eagleton looks like a model of equilibrium. Although a Clinton victory seems certain at the moment, despite the best efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin, anyone who is worried about the fate of the world – including Israel – must exercise his influence and warn against the danger of suicide by the American republic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who failed in his gamble on Mitt Romney against Obama and provokes Congress to conflict with the president, has suddenly become self-righteous and declared “neutrality.” On the contrary, let him stop being afraid, defy Sheldon Adelson and call on the hundreds of thousands of Israelis with dual citizenship to vote for the sane option.

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