Peacekeeping Problem: Trump Turns the National Guard Into a Political Tool


Peacekeeping Problem: Trump Turns the National Guard Into a Political Tool

In a stunning and unexpected show of force, National Guard troops cleared Lafayette Square by attacking peaceful protestors with a chemical spray, “flash bangs,” and rubber bullets.


“I have a tremendous amount of trust in the National Guard. During the recent protests, with a few exceptions, they behaved admirably,” Carrie Lee, an assistant professor at the U.S. Air War College, says. Speaking on her own behalf and not as a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force, Lee’s praise for the National Guard takes note of the responsibilities the National Guard has taken on since 9/11. “The war on terrorism has put enormous strains on the Guard who’ve been deployed far in excess of what a lot of their soldiers have signed up for,” she said. Lee adds that, in her view, the United States is facing more of what she describes as a “society-military crisis” than a civilian-military crisis. “There are those that believe that this isn’t nearly as bad as when [Army Gen. Douglas] MacArthur confronted [President Harry] Truman over Korea, or [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Colin] Powell disagreed with [President Bill] Clinton over gays in the military, but when you’re using federal forces to break up demonstrators who are peacefully protesting their constitutional rights, that’s a crisis.” 

Lee goes on to say that she worries that the events of the last month have “politicized” the military, a sentiment echoed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, perhaps the most high-profile and respected expert on the National Guard in the country. Horore commanded military units in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, ordering soldiers to lower their weapons. “We’re on a rescue mission, dammit,” he barked. Honore seems unwilling to let the Pentagon's senior civilians off the hook for their June 1 decisions, including using a medevac helicopter to clear protesters from the streets. “It’s not only illegal, it’s probably immoral,” he told me during an extensive telephone conversation, “but in my experience, a lot of these dumb ideas come from staffers in the White House. I don’t know that that is the case here, but I’ll just bet it is.” In his signature earthy style (“you don’t need to use any of my profanities in your article,” he told me), Honore backs those who fear the National Guard will be used as a scapegoat for the June 1 events. “This isn’t the first time the National Guard has been asked to take the fall," Honore notes. "Has anyone heard of Kent State?” The real blame, Honore says, belongs to the president. “He keeps referring to the military as his troops, as his soldiers, as his Generals,” he argues. “I’ve said it before, but I’ll tell you just the same, this guy in the White House either doesn’t understand the Constitution or he doesn’t give a damn. In my view, the Guard performed admirably. They’re a peacekeeping force, but Trump is trying to use them as a political tool, and that’s shameful. And that’s what he was doing on June 1.”


Mark Perry is a contributing editor at The American Conservative and an author whose books include Partners In Command and The Most Dangerous Man In America. Follow him on Twitter @markperrydc.

Image: Reuters