Nearly 500 former military, civilian leaders sign letter supporting Biden

"I think the ship of state is listing badly, and we need a new captain."

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden  greets a member of the military as he attends the 19th September 11 commemoration ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, September 11, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden greets a member of the military as he attends the 19th September 11 commemoration ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, September 11, 2020. –AMR ALFIKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Nearly 500 retired senior military officers, as well as former Cabinet secretaries, service chiefs and other officials, have signed an open letter in support of former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, saying that he has “the character, principles, wisdom and leadership necessary to address a world on fire.”

The letter, published Thursday morning by National Security Leaders for Biden, is the latest in a series of calls for President Trump’s defeat in the November election.

“We are former public servants who have devoted our careers, and in many cases risked our lives, for the United States,” it says. “We are generals, admirals, senior noncommissioned officers, ambassadors and senior civilian national security leaders. We are Republicans and Democrats, and Independents. We love our country.

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“Unfortunately, we also fear for it.”

The letter has been signed by 489 people.

Not all of those Republicans who previously have broken ranks with Trump have called for Biden’s election, although the numbers are growing. Last month, more than 60 former national security officials who served in Republican administrations, including Trump’s, signed a statement calling him “unfit to serve as President.” Noting that some of them held different policy positions from Biden, they nonetheless called for his election, saying it was “imperative that we stop Trump’s assault on our nation’s values and institutions and reinstate the moral foundations of our democracy.”

Other former Trump officials, including retired Gen. Jim Mattis, who served as defense secretary, and former national security adviser John Bolton, who have been sharply critical of Trump, have neither signed any of the missives nor said they would vote for Biden.

The names of some who signed the new letter have appeared on previous statements this year – and a handful were “Never Trumpers” in 2016. But most are new to the growing number of prominent national security figures publicly urging Biden’s election.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles G. Boyd, who signed the new letter, recorded a video for the group’s Twitter account.

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“I spent 36 years in the United States Air Force, almost seven of those as a prisoner of war in Vietnam,” he said in the video. “Since my return, I’ve been a Republican, but quietly.”

“I fervently believe that military officers should not be involved in presidential politics, even when retired,” said Boyd, who is the only former POW to have reached four-star rank, and served as deputy commander of the U.S. European Command. “But this year is different. Donald Trump’s assault on the rule of law that makes a democracy possible has been so egregious I’ve decided to speak out. . . . We need to vote for Joe Biden this year. I’m going to vote for him. I hope you do, too.”

Trump has spoken often of what he believes is his support from the military, although earlier this month he said that some leaders at the Pentagon probably weren’t “in love with me.” Some military leaders, he said, “want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

The troops, he indicated, were happy with him. His remarks came at a White House news conference after an article in the Atlantic quoted unnamed senior administration officials as saying Trump had called American troops “suckers” and “losers” for dying in battle.

A poll of active-duty service members conducted last month by Military Times, in conjunction with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, indicated a drop in military support for Trump. It showed Biden with a 41% to 37% advantage over the president, with remaining active-duty service members saying they were planning either not to vote or to support a third-party candidate. A similarly timed survey by the Military Times in 2016 gave Trump a two-to-one advantage over Hillary Clinton.

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The new letter, addressed “To Our Fellow Citizens,” says that Trump “has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us.

“Climate change continues unabated, as does North Korea’s nuclear program. The president has ceded influence to a Russian adversary who puts bounties on the heads of American military personnel, and his trade war against China has only harmed America’s farmers and manufacturers.”

Biden, it says, “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.”

Retired Navy Adm. Charles S. “Steve” Abbot, who joined the newly formed National Security Leaders for Biden last spring and is part of its leadership team, served as commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and deputy commander of the U.S. European Command. After retiring from the military, he became deputy homeland security adviser to former president George W. Bush.

It was while he was in the White House during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Abbot said in an interview, that he gained “some appreciation for what it’s like in the White House when you have to deal with a major crisis. . . . I thought they did it with skill,” he said.

It was what he considered Trump’s leadership failures in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that led him to speak out, Abbot said. “I think the ship of state is listing badly, and we need a new captain.”

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