In what might be the most insane public letter written by two military officers in U.S. history, retired Lt. Colonels John Nagl and Paul Yingling, Tuesday urged the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, to order troops to forcibly remove President Trump from the White House if he refused to leave after losing the election.
In the letter published by Defense One, they tell Milley that, “If Donald Trump refuses to leave office at the expiration of his constitutional term, the United States military must remove him by force, and you must give that order.”
Coming right on the heels of the firestorm of criticism created simply by Trump’s use of federal law enforcement officers to protect federal property in Washington, D.C. and Portland, this bizarre missive was not just unconstitutionally idiotic, and dangerous, but hypocritically tone-deaf as well.
The letter does serve to demonstrate however, how Trump Derangement Syndrome can infect even supposedly rational professional military men. In this case, the infection of these two faded field-grade officers had severe effects.
Their letter sounds more like something coming from a Rachel Maddow rant on MSNBC, than from a contributor to the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual, and a seasoned combat veteran. Their fictional inaugural day scenario also reads like something out of a dime store novel:
January 20, 2021, and Donald Trump will be sitting in the Oval Office. The street protests will inevitably swell outside the White House, and the ranks of Trump’s private army will grow inside its grounds. The speaker of the House will declare the Trump presidency at an end, and direct the Secret Service and Federal Marshals to remove Trump from the premises. These agents will realize that they are outmanned and outgunned by Trump’s private army, and the moment of decision will arrive.
At this moment of Constitutional crisis, only two options remain. Under the first, U.S. military forces escort the former president from the White House grounds. Trump’s little green men, so intimidating to lightly armed federal law enforcement agents, step aside and fade away, realizing they would not constitute a good morning’s work for a brigade of the 82nd Airborne.
Under the second, the U.S. military remains inert while the Constitution dies. The succession of government is determined by extralegal violence between Trump’s private army and street protesters; Black Lives Matter Plaza becomes Tahrir Square.
The idea that President Trump would simply hunker down in the White House basement and refuse to leave after losing the election, is fairly preposterous to begin with but has been one of many outlandish ideas floated by partisans and ‘Never-Trumpers’ in their bid to keep the anti-Trump crazy talk going till election day.
And as I wrote earlier, even Joe Biden jumped onboard this crazy train himself when asked what might happen if he (Biden) wins the election but Trump decides not to leave the White House. Biden responded: “I promise you, I’m absolutely convinced they [senior military leaders] will escort him [Trump] from the White House with great dispatch.”
But assuming this bizarre scenario was even remotely probable, the fact that they would suggest that the Army should intervene to remove an ex-president is even more insane and unconstitutional than the idea of an ex-president refusing to leave.
Firstly, as any first-year West Point cadet should know, even if the military was needed for this, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the principal military adviser to the president. He has no power to command, or issue orders, to the armed forces. That power falls to the civilian Secretary of Defense and to the Unified Combatant Commanders.
Asking Milley to intervene and issue orders is just plain dumb. As Fred Kaplan writes in Slate, “In other words, Nagl and Yingling sent their letter to the wrong address.”
Secondly, as I previously noted, this is not the military’s role. It would be a law enforcement action, and the Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, FBI, and other federal police personnel would be the ones to do it. But in the unlikely possibility that they could not, and the military was required, the one to give the order would be the civilian, elected president of the United States, Joe Biden in this scenario, not a rogue general.
Finally, even if these two retired yahoos are right in their wild speculation about Trump’s refusal to step down creating “America’s greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War,” their outrageous suggestion would only make that crisis far worse.
And presidential candidate Joe Biden echoing these Banana Republic ideas about the military removing Trump makes all this wild talk even more dangerous.