Heading into the midterm elections earlier this month, President Donald Trump fabricated a crisis on America’s southern border, warning the country of what he termed an invasion of migrants marching north from Central America.
In response, Trump ordered thousands of active duty troops to the U.S. border with Mexico, hyping up the imaginary threat in hopes of turning out his supporters in droves and producing as many wins as possible for Republican candidates.
The move, according to three former Pentagon officials, was unprecedented and dangerous.
Writing in the New York Times on Monday, Gordon Adams, Lawrence B. Wilkerson and Isaiah Wilson III said Trump used the mighty American military as “toy soldiers” for electoral gain.
> Mr. Trump’s announcement and the deployment that followed (of roughly 5,900) were probably perfectly legal. But we are a bipartisan threesome with decades of experience in and with the Pentagon, and to us, this act creates a dangerous precedent. We fear this was lost in the public hand-wringing over the decision, so let us be clear: The president used America’s military forces not against any real threat but as toy soldiers, with the intent of manipulating a domestic midterm election outcome, an unprecedented use of the military by a sitting president.
Some aspects of Trump’s border deployment are defensible and within the realm of ordinary: other presidents have sent troops to provide support functions for border security.
But there is one element of the move that is indefensible, they wrote.
> So, generously, some aspects of the deployment are at least defensible. But one is not, and that aspect is the domestic political use — or rather, misuse — of the military.
> James Mattis, the secretary of defense, asserted that the Defense Department does not “do stunts.” But this was a blatant political stunt. The president crossed a line — the military is supposed to stay out of domestic politics. As many senior military retirees have argued, the forces are not and should not be a political instrument. They are not toy soldiers to be moved around by political leaders but a neutral institution, politically speaking.
Though other presidents have surely used the military to score political points in the context of foreign policy — such as “Lyndon Johnson sending more troops to Vietnam, fearing he would be attacked for “cutting and running” from that conflict, or "George W. Bush crowing about “mission accomplished” when Saddam Hussein was toppled” — using troops at home to gain an electoral advantage is different.
> Electoral gain, not security, is this president’s goal. Two of us served in the military for many years; while all troops must obey the legal and ethical orders of civilian leaders, they need to have faith that those civilian leaders are using them for legitimate national security purposes. But the border deployment put the military right in the middle of the midterm elections, creating a nonexistent crisis to stimulate votes for one party.
> The deployment is a stunt, a dangerous one, and in our view, a misuse of the military that should have led Mr. Mattis to consider resigning, instead of acceding to this blatant politicization of America’s military.