Military Has-Beens Ask General to ‘Remove’ Trump If He Refuses to Go
There was a time that John Nagl was considered a minor celebrity of sorts, at least in the heady days of the Iraq War when he jumped on the counterinsurgency train with every other ambitious military officer writing books about how the war would be won with a generous mix of Clausewitz, a dash of Sun Tzu, a little Gen. Creighton Abrams (we could have won Vietnam if allowed him to do real counterinsurgency) and a whole lot of B.S. Nagl’s Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam made him a big hit with the Washington Nat Sec set, and he was well known for helping to write the Army’s Counterinsurgency Manual (later deemed rather flimsy) and charming reporters, who dubbed him the “Johnny Appleseed of COIN” and compared him to Lawrence of Arabia.
But the Obama years didn’t work out too well for the savvy officer, who after leaving the military with the rank of Lt. Colonel, did a stint heading the Center for New American Security where he advocated a surge into Afghanistan of more U.S. troops, more money, more commitment. Then he dropped off the blob radar to become headmaster at a tony boys school outside Philly.
Until now. Apparently he’s headed back to blob town on a new train—the Never Trumper express. In an “open letter” to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, he and Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, another former officer who made a name for himself with a withering attack on the war generals in 2007 and then faded away, lay out a scenario in which Trump will refuse to leave office if he loses in November. They say Trump has already executed “Caesar”-like orders in dispatching his own praetorian guard against civilians in the cities during the protests. He has already undermined the election by discrediting mail-in voting. He will cry fraud if Biden wins. Facing criminal prosecution for earlier crimes, he won’t abdicate. He will no doubt have his “paramilitary force” ready and his “acolytes in right-wing media” bolstering his decision to occupy the White House.
The courts and the political system will not be able to handle the chaos. It will be a 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.
As the senior military officer of the United States, the choice between these two options lies with you. In the Constitutional crisis described above, your duty is to give unambiguous orders directing U.S. military forces to support the Constitutional transfer of power. Should you remain silent, you will be complicit in a coup d’état. You were rightly criticized for your prior active complicity in the president’s use of force against peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square. Your passive complicity in an extralegal seizure of political power would be far worse.
So the solution to a Constitutional crisis is to commit an un-Constitutional act? Got it.
The rule of law created by our Constitution has made this miracle possible. However, our Constitutional order is not self-sustaining. Throughout our history, Americans have laid down their lives so that this form of government may endure. Continuing the unfinished work (link to the Gettysburg Address!) for which these heroes fell now falls to you.
Milley, who has had a tough summer—he apologized for himself after becoming a prop in Trump’s cringey Lafayette Square photo op back in June—has not commented on this equally awkward grandstanding by his two former military colleagues. But given the widespread condemnation of the “letter” throughout the military community, it would seem that Nagl and Yingling totally misread the room. The law is the law, and the military, for all of its vast problems—its failures, corruption, hubris—knows the law is the very foundation its authority and legitimacy. Messing with it would undermine everything.
If Biden wins and gives a lawful order to have a stubborn Trump removed from the West Wing, the military will obey. But it is not up to Milley or any other general to decide, or to act as arbiter in any political, even Constitutional, crisis.
Bottom line, this self-righteous gambit is a misfiring fail.
I cannot speak for Yingling but Nagl is an opportunist. He left the military at the peak of the Iraq War and joined a partisan think tank. Later at CNAS, he seemed to be jockeying for an Obama administration job, but he never got one. Perhaps he’s back with some idea that he might worm into a new Democratic administration. Unfortunately, stunts like these remind people how much damage he and his ilk did in politicizing the war, blurring the lines, and eroding the trust Americans had in their military leaders to stay out of politics. Forget the knife, he better have a spoon, because he is gonna have to dig his way back to Philly after this one.