Former commander of US forces in Afghanistan endorses Biden

It's striking how many retired military leaders, many of whom have been apolitical for decades, have stepped up to denounce Trump, endorse Biden, or both.
Stanley McChrystal speaks during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on May 2, 2016.
Stanley McChrystal speaks during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on May 2, 2016.Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Donald Trump kicked off 2019 with a tweet attacking retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal. "'General' McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama," the Republican president wrote, adding, "Known for big, dumb mouth."

McChrystal, of course, is a highly decorated four-star general and combat veteran who devoted nearly all of his adult life to serving his country. Trump nevertheless questioned McChrystal's service -- note his use of scare quotes around "general," as if he hadn't earned his rank -- and publicly mocked him.

It's against this backdrop that McChrystal has thrown his support behind Joe Biden.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal endorsed Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president on Thursday, saying that the nation needed a commander in chief that was "humble enough to understand that they are a servant." McChrystal made the endorsement even though there had been tension between McChrystal and Biden in the past.

During an MSNBC appearance, the retired general described Biden as someone who is "humble enough to listen to experts and who is humble enough to respect people who serve and have served."

The line appeared to reference recent reporting on Trump denigrating military service, dismissing fallen heroes as "losers" and "suckers."

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. Right off the bat, it's important to note that Barack Obama fired McChrystal after the general's 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, in which McChrystal had plenty of unkind words about Biden.

So why is he endorsing the former vice president now? "I think my willingness to endorse him now should signal to people that there was a respectful relationship then and just how important I think it is to replicate that kind of respectful relationship between senior military and leaders now," McChrystal said of Biden this morning.

But it's also worth acknowledging just how many retired U.S. military leaders, many of whom have been apolitical for decades, have stepped up to denounce Trump, endorse Biden, or both.

Indeed, McChrystal's news comes on the heels of retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, condemning the Republican president over his racism.

Those criticisms came just two weeks after retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, perhaps best known as the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, made similar public comments.

"This fall, it's time for new leadership in this country," McRaven said, adding, "President Trump has shown he doesn't have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief.... The country needs to move forward without him at the helm."

As regular readers know, in recent months, the public has heard related Trump criticisms from former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- who have eight stars on their shoulders between them.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis and retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, also spoke out in the wake of the Lafayette Square debacle. Around the same time, the public heard from retired three-star Admiral Joseph Maguire, who worked for Trump as acting director of National Intelligence, and who publicly aligned himself with the criticisms of Trump levied by Mattis and Mullen.

They were joined by retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also spoke out against Trump's divisive politics.

For those keeping score, there are now four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs who've publicly slammed Trump of late.

Americans have heard related criticisms in recent weeks from Gen. Tony Thomas, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, retired three-star Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, retired Maj. Gen. Steven Lepper, retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey, and to a certain extent, even retired four-star Gen. John Kelly, who served as Trump's White House chief of staff.

In case that weren't quite enough, just last week, more than 200 retired generals and admirals collectively endorsed Biden's candidacy -- and some of those retired military leaders worked directly under Trump.

If there's a precedent for the retired brass stepping up like this, I'm not aware of it.