Nearly 500 retired senior military officials, diplomats and other officials signed an open letter last Thursday, endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as “the leader our nation needs” and “a good man with a strong sense of right and wrong.”
“We are former public servants who have devoted our careers, and in many cases risked our lives, for the United States,” the officials wrote. “We are generals, admirals, senior noncommissioned officers, ambassadors, and senior civilian national security leaders. We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.
“We love our country. Unfortunately, we also fear for it. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven America needs principled, wise, and responsible leadership. America needs a President who understands, as President Harry S. Truman said, that ‘the buck stops here.’”
The letter was released Sep. 24 and included 489 signatories, calling themselves National Security Leaders for Biden.
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith is listed as the executive director of National Security Leaders for Biden. Other members include retired Navy Admiral Steve Abbot; former National Security Council director Steven Brock; former Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig; former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy; former National Security Adviser Susan Rice; retired U.S. Air Force Major General Margaret H. Woodward; former Agency Director for the Department of Homeland Security Dr. Patrick Carrick; and former CIA Officer and Senate Staff Steven A. Cash.
Dr. Peter Feaver, a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, said that about half of the signatories – 207 – are former military members.
Biden was ascribed several positive characteristics in the letter, including empathy, honesty, integrity and wisdom.
“We believe America’s president must be honest, and we find Joe Biden’s honesty and integrity indisputable,” the signatories wrote. “He believes a nation’s word is her bond. He believes we must stand by the allies who have stood by us.”
Trump has reportedly referred to American soldiers killed at war as “losers” and “suckers,” according to The Atlantic. Back in 2015, he also made disparaging comments about former Navy pilot and prisoner of war Sen. John McCain.
“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
The letter criticized Trump’s time as president, adding that the next president would have to also deal with a weak economy and the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected the U.S.
“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 letter said. “Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.
“I’m not surprised that you see an outpouring of military support for Joe Biden,” said Dr. Grant Neeley, chair of University of Dayton’s political science department. “I think you’ll likely also see the same type of actions for President Trump, just like we saw in 2016.”
In 2016, 88 retired military officials endorsed Trump in an open letter.
“I think the military is a diverse organization,” Neeley said. “It’s not monolithic at all and there’s a wide variety of opinions held by military members across the ideological spectrum.”
According to the letter, some of the signatories may have “different opinions on particular policy matters,” but they “trust Joe Biden’s positions are rooted in sound judgment, thorough understanding, and fundamental values.”
“He is very much well-versed with the American military operation,” said Dr. Ravi K. Perry, chair of Howard University’s political science department. “And so, in some ways, it’s not surprising for him to get this support vis-a-vis a president who has not even ever served but also avoided service and never encouraged his children to serve either.”
Biden – like Trump – has never served in the military. He received five student draft deferments before receiving a medical exemption for asthma. Trump was granted four student deferments before his exemption for bone spurs.
Feaver said that Trump did not have the advantage in support from the military and veteran community over Biden than he did over former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who “was much more negatively viewed.”
“Fast forward to 2020, Trump’s support has declined and the Democrats nominated Joe Biden, who is not at all viewed the same way as Clinton was,” said Feaver. “So, Biden actually is beating Trump in some of these polls because he doesn’t have the high negatives that Hillary Clinton had and Trump’s own standing has eroded considerably.”
A poll last month of active-duty troops by the Military Times and Syracuse University – done before the August political conventions – showed a steady drop in troops’ opinion of Trump since his election four years ago.
In a survey of 1,018 active-duty troops in late July and early August, 49.9% had an unfavorable view of Trump and about 38% had a favorable view.