The Increasingly Dangerous Politicization of the U.S. Military

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Politicization of the U.S. military is a relatively recent, and increasingly common, phenomenon. If this trend continues, it could endanger the military's ability to give crucial, unbiased advice to presidents and other lawmakers.

Military leaders have traditionally stayed above the fray throughout U.S. history.

This changed when retired Commandant of the Marine Corps P.X. Kelley endorsed George H.W. Bush for president in 1988, and subsequently when former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Admiral William Crowe, endorsed Bill Clinton in 1992.

Since then, active and retired military leaders have followed suit in not only endorsing candidates, but also attending conventions and taking public political positions.

Is President Trump accelerating the politicization of the military?

President Trump has staffed his Administration with many retired generals, and often speaks of "my generals" when describing his cabinet officials and active duty officers. The President and Vice President frequently speak to troops overseas as if they are addressing political rallies. Though a typical tone of POTUS, the traditionally nonpartisan troop touches have come to resemble rallies in turn.

The military must be nonpartisan in order to offer unbiased advice to America’s leaders.

Generals who are blinded by partisanship, or fear political retribution, may not advise presidents as effectively as they should. To that end, there are several steps that can be taken to reverse the politicization of the military.

For instance, Defense Department officials should push back on White House requests to use military personnel or equipment in partisan settings. Similarly, military officials should reinforce nonpartisan behavior among their troops. Finally, senior military and cabinet officials must remind the President and Vice President of the importance of military nonpartisanship throughout their routine engagement as well as in times of crisis.

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