Military leaders need to 'speak truth to power' -- or resign: Former NSC official
Donald Trump and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

Military leaders may be forced to resign to protect America from President Donald Trump, a former National Security Council official warned.


Col. Jeff McCausland (US Army, ret.) explained his thinking in a new analysis piece for NBC News.

"On Monday, riot police supported by both National Guard troops and other federal agencies rousted peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square so President Donald Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op. Trump’s understanding of the protesters — and their anger with America’s longstanding problems with racism and police brutality — appears exceedingly limited," he wrote. "He described himself as 'your president of law and order' and warned that the nation was 'gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, or, arsonists, looters, criminals.'”

"But the nation’s top military leaders have a different perspective. In a series of striking critiques this week, senior retired military officers including former Secretary of Defense and retired Gen. James Mattis spoke out forcefully and unequivocally against the president. This is not a disagreement over policy, but rather an indictment of the commander in chief’s leadership and competency at a critical moment for the nation," he explained.

There is tension between Trump's wishes and constitutional obligations.

"But this sad series of events has presented the nation’s uniformed military leadership with a challenge to civil-military relations. Each swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. But they have also sworn to obey the orders of the president as commander in chief. Trump wittingly or not seems bent on forcing these senior military officers to choose between these potentially conflicting loyalties, and some fear such a dilemma could occur soon," he explained.

"Since his election, Trump has sought the support of the military while periodically being contemptuous of its prerogatives. At times, he has seemed to view the military as just another political force to be used for partisan advantage. As a result, some in the military — as well as retired officers serving in senior administration positions — have, over the past three years, exercised what could be called 'respectful disobedience' to appear supportive of the president while keeping his worst excesses at bay. In the current crisis, their ability to do this and avoid overt politicization may no longer be possible, and this may be further strained as we approach the November election," he warned.

"At this critical moment in our history, it is imperative that the current senior leadership of the American military speak truth to power," he explained. "And if they feel they cannot do that while working for this administration, they have only one other option. It might be useful for them to remember a statement by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell nearly 30 years ago. He was asked by a Naval Academy midshipman what an officer should do if he or she is directed by political leadership to do something contrary to their oath. Powell replied succinctly, 'If after those decisions are made you still find it completely unacceptable and it strikes to the heart of your moral beliefs, then I think you have to resign.'"