There is fear that the president wants to use the military, a sector that was always apolitical, to hinder the transition.
The words spoken by America’s highest military officer had a familiar tone, but in the midst of a chaotic week at the Pentagon, they were particularly poignant.
“We are a rarity in the military,” said General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We do not take an oath to a king or queen, a tyrant or a dictator. We do not take an oath to an individual,” he said.
Milley spoke at an Army museum presentation Wednesday after President Donald Trump fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and installed three stalwarts in senior Pentagon policy positions.
The abrupt changes have prompted fears about what Trump might try do in his last two months in office, and if the apolitical nature of the army, which has been a constant for a long time, could be overturned.
Milley’s comments, who stood alongside Esper’s successor, current defense chief Christopher Miller, reflected a point of view that he has long been passionate about: the unmistakable duty of the military to protect and defend the Constitution.
What he called the “moral beacon” for all who wear that uniform.
But his message in a moment of confusion (Trump has refused to concede his electoral defeat) was unmistakable: the military exists to defend democracy and should not be used as a political trophy.
“We took an oath to the Constitution,” Milley said, adding that each service member “will protect and defend that document regardless of personal cost.”
The Trump’s motives for the Pentagon shake up are unclear, but it has created a great discomfort within the building.
Was he simply attacking Esper and others he didn’t consider loyal enough? Is there a broader plan to enact policy changes that the Republican could tout in his final days as president?
Or, in the most extreme scenario, could Trump try to get the military to help him remain in office beyond the day of inauguration?
Milley has rejected the latter possibility. Addressing Congress, he stated that “in the event of a dispute over any aspect of the election, by law the courts and the US Congress are required to resolve any dispute, not the US military.” .
Said the service members should not be involved in the transfer of power after an election.
Trump had grown increasingly angry at Esper, who openly disagreed with his desire to use the military on active duty during the June civil unrest.
Esper had also worked with military leaders to convince Trump not to withdraw all troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
If the motive is to give the president some quick policy changes, then filling top positions with more willing loyalists will help, particularly in any effort to prevent the transition smoothly from power to President-elect Joe Biden.