WASHINGTON – Nearly 500 generals, admirals and former national security officials from both parties endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday, and blasted President Donald Trump as “not equal” to the challenges of the job in a letter released Thursday.
The letter, signed by 489 members of the group called the National Security Leaders for Biden, includes former Obama administration Defense Secretaries Ash Carter, Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, along with former Navy Secretary and NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe, who served under both former Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. Among the retired senior officers is Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, who until last year was the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump.
The signature of a senior official like Selva, with recent, relevant experience advising the Trump White House as the military’s second-highest ranking officer, indicates alarm about Trump’s fitness as commander in chief, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution. O’Hanlon pointed to revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” that showed the United States and North Korea were dangerously close to war in 2017. Trump’s erratic, “seat of the pants” decision-making has rattled senior military and civilian officials, he said.
“There is real concern among some of these folks that we’re living on borrowed time with this guy having his finger on the nuclear trigger,” O’Hanlon said of Trump.
O’Keefe, a Republican, said in an interview that the statement is aimed at undecided voters. The group intends to write op-eds for news organizations and to speak out through the election, he said.
“This is a referendum on whether we want to reinforce and establish what has kept this democratic experiment in play for the last 250 years or so or go into uncharted territory and redefine who we are as Americans,” O’Keefe said.
The letter praises Biden for his morality, integrity and experience. The letter excoriates Trump without mentioning him by name.
“The current President has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small,” the group writes. “Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.”
The letter is addressed to “fellow citizens.” Its signatories “are generals, admirals, senior non-commissioned officers, ambassadors, and senior civilian national security leaders. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. We love our country. Unfortunately, we also fear for it.”
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The list also includes officials from the White House such as Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser; John Kerry, his secretary of State; and James Clapper, his director of National Intelligence.
“Donald Trump has weakened our global alliances, undermined trust in U.S. leadership and competence, and time after time privileged Vladimir Putin over American national interests,” Rice said in a statement. “The United States cannot endure four more years of Trump’s failed leadership.”
They conclude by saying the next president must deal with turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, recession and emboldened adversaries such as North Korea and Russia: “Joe Biden has the character, principles, wisdom, and leadership necessary to address a world on fire. That is why Joe Biden must be the next President of the United States; why we vigorously support his election; and why we urge our fellow citizens to do the same.”