President Trump’s decision to send as many as 15,000 troops to the southern border has drawn sharp and unusual criticism from former military leaders, who have called the deployment “wasteful” and raised worries that the president might be using the military as a political tool to influence the midterm elections just days away.
“The military has all of a sudden been placed in a highly politicized environment regarding immigration,” retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said of the surge of troops to the border.
The blunt criticism of the mission to block what Trump contends is a threatening caravan of migrants encouraged by Democrats reflects the strain that his unusual presidency has put on one of America’s most important norms: the tradition of an apolitical military.
Other presidents have deployed forces to the border. But the timing of this deployment and the questionable need for it, with the caravan at least a month away from the border with Mexico and diminishing in size, have led many former military officers to deliver their harshest criticisms yet of Trump.
It has also put Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who has worked to keep the military out of politics, in a tough spot. Asked this week if the deployment was a “political stunt,” the former Marine general bristled, “We don’t do political stunts.”
The president has cast the caravan as containing potential terrorists and other “tough” men who would particularly pose a threat to women — who are among the most sought-after voters in Tuesday’s election. In fact, women and children are commonplace among the caravaners, who have said they intend to seek legal asylum in the United States.