Ex-Defense secretaries say military must stay out of election battles

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The U.S. military must not become entangled in any election disputes in the coming days, all 10 living former Defense secretaries wrote in an op-ed published on Sunday.

“American elections and the peaceful transfers of power that result are hallmarks of our democracy,” they wrote in The Washington Post, adding that everyone in the American defense establishment must “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

The group of 10 includes one who later became vice president (Dick Cheney) and two who served as Pentagon chiefs under President Donald Trump (Jim Mattis and Mark Esper).

Trump’s rhetoric in the months since he lost the Nov. 3 election to Joe Biden have led to speculation that he might deploy the military in an attempt to hold on to power. Trump has repeatedly and emphatically said he was cheated out of victory and defiantly urged his supporters to continue to push for the results to be overturned, ingredients that have been seen as paving the way for potential unrest and violence.

The group of 10 made it clear they had no sympathy for Trump’s attempts to overturn the election, by whatever means. “The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived,” they wrote.

The signatories served under Presidents George H.W. Bush (Cheney), Bill Clinton (William Cohen, William Perry), George W. Bush (Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates), Barack Obama (Gates again, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Ashton Carter) and Trump.

A former Defense official expressed his approval for the Post opinion column.

“The op-ed today by all living former secretaries of Defense is exceptional in its scope and directness.” said Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East. “It needed to be. I volunteered to assist with the transition as soon as I was asked. I am not a partisan person, but this is beyond partisanship. It is the duty of any American, especially those that gave an oath to serve the Constitution, to ensure the peaceful transfer of power to the duly elected President. There should be no further delay in that process, especially from the Department of Defense.”

Lara Seligman contributed to this report.

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