Seventy national security figures, including former CIA director Michael Hayden, former FBI and CIA director William Webster, and a slew of national security veterans of both Republican and Democratic administrations, signed a letter on Thursday endorsing former vice president Joe Biden. They set out 10 reasons ranging from President Trump’s unfitness to lead in a crisis to soliciting foreign influence to aligning himself with dictators to vilifying immigrants and attacking the rule of law. “In contrast, we believe Joe Biden has the character, experience, and temperament to lead this nation,” they write. “We believe he will restore the dignity of the presidency, bring Americans together, reassert America’s role as a global leader, and inspire our nation to live up to its ideals.”
Several aspects of the letter are noteworthy.
First, many of the signatories had disagreements, serious ones, over the years with Biden on everything from the nuclear freeze to the Iraq War to the Iran nuclear deal. However, those are policy differences that decent, honorable people can argue about. What is essential to them — and should be to all Americans — are fundamental values and an understanding of America’s obligations in the world. Biden believes in the importance of NATO, knows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a thug and understands that “enemy of the people,” when uttered by a U.S. president, becomes fodder for dictators to imprison and murder journalists.
Second, many Republicans who would never publicly sign such a letter would agree with each of the 10 charges leveled at Trump. They might even concede that Biden is less dangerous.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has blasted Trump for abandoning the Kurds, for pulling troops from Germany and, more recently, for welcoming support from QAnon. (It’s “dangerous lunacy that should have no place in American politics,” she said of the domestic terrorist threat.) Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) publicly prattles on that Biden lacks the strength to do the job, but he saw the evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia, Trump’s willingness to extort Ukraine, his buttering up Kim Jong Un and his turning a blind eye to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Neither Rubio nor Cheney could ever imagine that Biden would ignore bounties put on U.S. troops heads or encourage China’s communist dictator to go ahead with detention camps for the Uighurs. They, like virtually all Republicans in the House and Senate (save Sen. Mitt Romney), simply do not have the fortitude to break with their party. They imagine they have a future in the post-Trump GOP. (One would hope that courage and intellectual integrity would be a requirement for leadership in a revamped GOP, but if experience is any guide, they’ll be rewarded for not publicly breaking with Trump.) Unlike current officeholders, the 70 signatories are liberated to tell the truth (as many did in 2016).
Third, if we take out Trump, his conspiracy-minded allies and the cynical conservatives who parrot Russian President Vladimir Putin, there is actually a broad consensus on foreign policy from the center-right (or even just the plain right) to the center-left. We need to rebuild alliances, recover our moral voice in defense of human rights, stand up to Russia and China, reevaluate our relationship with the Saudis and address 21st-century transborder threats such as pandemics and cyberterrorism. Remove Trump from the equation — and Republicans’ hypocrisy in standing by him — and you could have broad bipartisan cooperation in national security.
Finally, a great number of conservatives in think tanks, retired military officers and former lawmakers who would suffer no career or financial harm have remained inexcusably silent. Good grief — what do former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats, former Arizona senator Jon Kyl, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman, former Missouri senator James M. Talent or dozens of conservative colleagues of the signers at right-leaning think tanks have to lose at this point? (They are kidding themselves if they think that by clamming up they’ll get another spot in future GOP administrations; they’re shockingly selfish if they’ve made a monetary calculation to keep quiet). Maybe former chief of staff to the secretary of homeland security Miles Taylor’s bracingly honest account of Trump’s mental and temperamental shortcomings will stir the consciences of some of them to join the 70 signatories. I guarantee they will feel less sheepish and defensive if they do. Truth is liberating — not to mention patriotic.
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