Former admirals and generals warn Trump is 'dangerous' to military and country
By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 21, 2016
WASHINGTON — The 15 men and one woman standing at the front of a room at the National Press Association on Wednesday had several things in common.
All retired from the military as either a general or an admiral. All support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, though they said her campaign was not involved in organizing their media event. And all warned Donald Trump would be a dangerous commander in chief.
The event occurred five days after Trump appeared at his new hotel a few blocks from the White House flanked by two Medal of Honor recipients. He declared they were among 17 Medal of Honor recipients, most from Vietnam, Korea and World War II, who have endorsed him.
“Even the generals admit there is something very special about Medal of Honor recipients,” Trump said.
One by one, the group of old guard military leadership questioned Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and warned the Republican presidential candidate was alienating U.S. allies. Several warned about his calls to use and allow the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They declared Trump lacked understanding of national security and the role and structure of the military.
“We want to make sure that Donald Trump never sends our troops to war because of his lack of knowledge, his bad judgment, impulse, ego or his business interests,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, an avid Clinton campaigner. “We are calling on veterans, military families, the press and the American people to realize that all of what I’ve just discussed has an unavoidable consequence: danger to our men and women in uniform.”
Wednesday’s news conference comes just six weeks before elections in a heated presidential campaign. With his outspoken and combative stance, Trump has alienated some of the top military brass. But he still appears to enjoy support of many rank and file servicemembers who have said they welcome his strong, no-nonsense declarations in the face of enemy forces around the world.
The group on Wednesday, made up of military leaders ranging from the recent wars to World War II, sought to counter that vantage point, warning Trump was alienating allies — particularly in the Muslim world — needed to defeat the Islamic State group and that his off-the-cuff remarks showed a lack of understanding and interest in the realities of global threats.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Donna Barbisch said Wednesday that Trump has “pushed her over the edge” from being a Republican to supporting Clinton.
The former director of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense program integration said she understands the threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. She said Trump does not recognize that military force is only a last resort after diplomacy fails, but Clinton, who served as secretary of state, had the experience.
“I am fearful to think he could be the next commander in chief,” Barbisch said. “He does not understand the responsibility.”
Questioning Trump’s declared admiration for Putin, several of the generals and admirals said that alone was a clear warning bell.
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander, said watching Putin undo two decades of Russian democratization after the fall of the Soviet Union was “like a nightmare.” He said he’s made eight trips to Ukraine, where Russian troops under Putin have seized control of part of the region.
“And Donald Trump admires him?” Clark said Wednesday. “Someone who kills and jails his adversaries, has basically destroyed Russian democracy.”
Clark, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, said Trump “doesn’t do his homework,” appears to be “totally consumed by self-interest” and, with business connections all over the world, won’t release his tax returns, raising questions about conflict of interest.
“I’d like to know who invests in his properties, who controls his loans, what the business connection is with Russia,” he said. “We can’t have someone as our commander in chief and president who doesn’t understand American values and whose character isn’t suited to the awesome responsibility of that office.”
This year’s presidential campaign has garnered a lot more political involvement by former military leaders in support of the candidates, drawing criticism from former commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey who warned these actions could undermine the political neutrality of the military.
Asked about that criticism, retired Navy Vice Adm. Kevin Green said he was a civilian before he was a servicemember and he is now a civilian again. He said that as deeply as he respects and trusts the people who expressed concern about speaking out, he felt he had to do it.
“The safety of our nation, the security of our future, of our grandchildren, is too important for us to stand aside and let something really devastating happen to the United States we love so dearly,” Green said.