Days after the Trump-Pence campaign released an endorsement letter signed by 235 retired military officers, a coalition of nearly 500 current and former national security leaders has released its own letter endorsing challenger Joe Biden for president.
The open letter, published Thursday morning by National Security Leaders for Biden, contains 489 names, including 22 retired four-star generals and admirals; five former defense secretaries; and other notable leaders including former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former NASA administrator Charles Bolden, among others.
Addressed to "Our Fellow Citizens," the letter describes its signers as including Republicans, Democrats and Independents united by a common fear for the future of the country.
"The next president will inherit a nation -- and a world -- in turmoil," the letter states. "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. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us."
It cites the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession, malign Russian influence and threats from a nuclear North Korea as challenges the U.S. president will face over the next four years, adding that Biden, who previously served as vice president, was capable of taking them on.
Other notable names on the lengthy list include Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense widely believed to be Biden's pick for defense secretary and former national security advisor and U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. The former defense secretaries signing on included Ash Carter, William Cohen, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta and William Perry.
"Many of us have briefed Joe Biden on matters of national security, and we know he demands a thorough understanding of any issue before making a decision -- as any American president should," the signers wrote. "... Joe Biden believes in personal responsibility. Over his long career, he has learned hard lessons and grown as a leader who can take positive action to unite and heal our country. It is unthinkable that he would ever utter the phrase 'I don't take responsibility at all.'"
Steve Abbot, who retired from the Navy as a four-star admiral in 2000 and later served as deputy homeland security advisor under President George W. Bush, told Military.com he saw the current moment in U.S. history as extraordinary and galvanizing.
"It is indeed a group that includes ... people that haven't had any identification with any political effort, but believe that these are fraught times in the nation's history and that they needed to come together to deal with the crisis that is at hand," he said. "So this is not a one-party effort. It's cross-partisan."
While it has become an ubiquitous part of the election season for retired general and flag officers to stump for a candidate, there are many who believe former brass should avoid taking sides.
On Wednesday, Army Lt. Col. M. L. Cavanaugh published an op ed in the L.A. Times denouncing these public endorsements, saying they serve to "embezzle" the trust Americans place in a nonpartisan military.
Abbot said he believed he retained a civic duty to be involved in the political life of the nation, adding that he didn't consider the argument that retired military personnel should abstain a valid one. He added that President Donald Trump, in statements like his most recent charge that top Pentagon leaders only wanted to fight wars to keep defense contractors happy, was further dividing the nation and damaging the military.
"President Trump has been using the military using this institution, which is, you know, hugely important to the nation, as an instrument to further his own personal interests," he said. "In other words, he is indeed a threat to proper civilian-military relations."
Abbot said his personal call to action came around Easter of this year, borne out of dismay at Trump's handling of the pandemic and his belief that the president was contributing to the crisis instead of mitigating it.
But, as a former naval aviator who flew with the late John McCain, Abbot said it had become clear years previous that he could not support Trump. McCain, who was held and tortured as a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, served in the U.S. Senate for 31 years.
Trump created controversy in 2015 by saying McCain wasn't a war hero.
"I like people who weren't captured," he said at the time. The comments have received renewed attention in the wake of a story in The Atlantic reporting Trump called Americans who died in war "losers" and "suckers." The White House has disputed this report.
"This president said back in previous cycles that John McCain was not a hero, he was a loser," Abbot said. "And I knew when he said that, that he was not on my wavelength. Because John McCain, in my view, is a national hero."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.