Dear Mr. President:
We write today to call on you to embrace the values of the men and women who serve you in our armed forces. We knowingly break the culture of public silence expected of retired Generals and Admirals to urge you to exert national and global leadership to stem and reverse the rapidly receding tides of American moral authority.
For years, the most senior Generals and Admirals have told military veterans that comments about current policy should be left to others. We understand and respect that view. We also believe that compliance that leads us to silence in this instance would make us complicit with actions inconsistent with who we are and what we stand for as military veterans.
We collectively served for hundreds of years in all branches of the Armed Forces. We served without political bias and continue to uphold that principle today. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines live by sets of similar core values and norms that help ensure we are able to serve together without hesitation, wherever and whenever called.
These core values provide the foundation for who we are and how we act in the service of our Nation. They offer a basis for our behavior, and when in doubt, they give us a compass that will never let us down. America’s military is among the most respected of all institutions in our Nation, and one need only look to our collective core values to understand why.
When we meet an active, retired or veteran service member today, we know that they live a life based on loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These values are exemplified by those who have served, fought, and died before us, under our flag and in our uniform. As with our oath to support and defend the Constitution, we are entrusted with values that should be defended without compromise. Those who serve in uniform today are equally loyal to those values and that oath. To abandon them would undermine the foundations of our democracy, who we are as a country, and jeopardize the trust we have earned around the world.
Today, we are confronted by a growing gap between the values of those who serve our Nation in uniform, and those for whom they willingly execute lawful orders. We fear it is widening to possible fracture. Even as we are concerned, however, we remain optimistic: we know that the situation can be reversed quickly if the values that have served us so well are embedded in the process of making decisions of consequence for our service members.
Nowhere is this gap felt more immediately today than in Northern Syria, where U.S. forces are in the process of withdrawing from the area despite the violent consequences the decision will have on our Kurdish partners. While withdrawing ground forces from Syria may be a noble goal, doing so at the cost of abandoning our Kurdish partners, who valiantly fought alongside us to combat ISIS, is not consistent with who we are as a military force. The potential release of thousands of ISIS fighters, enabling their migration to the nations that make up the heart of our NATO alliance, is not consistent with who we are as a military force.
When we are forced to turn our backs on our own loyalty, commitment, integrity, honor and trust, our challenges become far more daunting. Allies and partners who have served, bled and died by our side will turn their backs on us. Such a development is not in the national security interest of the United States. And as Commander-in-Chief, you have the utmost responsibility to ensure it doesn’t happen.
Mr. President, we urge you to adjust course consistent with our vital national security interests and your own unequivocal support for our men and women in uniform.
Brigadier General Ricardo Aponte, USAF (Retired)
The American College of National Security Leaders is a consortium of retired Admirals, Generals, Ambassadors and Senior Government Executives committed to strengthening the United States’ national security initiatives.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.
This story has been updated.
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