An op-ed criticizing the president from the man responsible for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden represents a startling intervention by a studiously non-political figure.
This week, retired Admiral William McRaven published an unsparing open letter to President Trump requesting that, in the wake of the president’s decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of a security clearance, the president grant him the same honor. It is a startling intervention by a luminary of military leadership—the man responsible for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden—who has not previously publicly criticized this president, nor any other for that matter.
To understand the meaning of McRaven’s intervention, one must recognize the ongoing challenge faced by former national security officials and military officers regarding appropriate responses to this president. National security is supposed to exist apart from politics—the identity of the president might change the list of national intelligence priorities or military objectives, but the job stays the same. This is a realm in which everyone is supposed to be on the same team; permitting cracks in that foundation leads to rapid erosion. Even after retirement, former military officers and similarly situated national security officials typically refrain from overt political participation: What is a formal rule during the period of service transforms into a powerful norm of silence upon return to civilian life. The candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump has upended this tradition.