As much as I have a warm spot for the Maryland National Guard (MDNG) after 30-plus years of service, I was dismayed to learn of its participation in a ridiculous mission in early June in the District of Columbia to project domination in the streets in early June, as directed, I believe, by our foolhardy president.
The MDNG sent 116 troops to protect national monuments supposedly in jeopardy after protests and illegal vandalism of Confederate and Christopher Columbus monuments in cities throughout the United States. This destruction was shameful.
To show strength, even when provocative and ill -advised, Trump unilaterally decided to request the MDNG to support the DC National Guard and park police in protecting cherished monuments. But our impulsive, vote-seeking president, forgot one important task:
Ask Mayor Bowser if she wanted or needed federal assistance. A rather serious omission.
A Maryland Senate Committee conducted a hearing last week to investigate why the Guard troops went to help its neighbor. Was it necessary? This was the first that I heard about this wayward mission.
Undeniably, the District of Columbia is a federal jurisdiction. It lacks the protection and prerogatives of statehood. Therefore, it is subservient to the president and Congress.
So, the White House and the Pentagon had no legal obligation to seek Mayor Bowser’s opinion or agreement. However, it would have been the decent, collaborative thing to do in a city with a professional police force. Probably sounds old-fashioned.
Back to the mission. It was manufactured by Trump to exhibit muscular control of the streets, to show Democratic mayors like Bowser he had the gumption to protect invaluable monuments.
The president and the Pentagon committed an egregious mistake. Use of the military, whether the active or Guard or Reserve forces, for blatant political purposes demeans the expertise and neutrality of the Armed Forces. We all recall the use of troops to clear peaceful protesters when Trump decided to take a stroll to St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square carrying a bible.
Under any threatening circumstances, domestic or foreign, deployment of military forces should happen only after exhaustive deliberation. What shouldn’t take too much thought is the ill-advised, politically motivated use of the uniformed services. A military uniform connotes public service of the highest caliber to respond to domestic terrorism, natural or man-made disasters and foreign combat undertaken for national security purposes.
Not political gambits justified only by a “king of the mountain” mentality.
When the president and the Defense Department requested the National Guard for duty in the District of Columbia, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said no. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said yes. Hogan did say no when the president requested Maryland National Guard units to be sent in June 2019 to the Mexican border to thwart crossings.
An implicit trust must exist between civilian political leaders and top military officers. The former must expect readiness and expertise; the latter must expect sound, reasonable thinking and decision-making. This trust has eroded during the past nearly four years. Trump can only think transactionally, not sensibly and respectfully.
The Maryland National Guard should have stayed home and avoided being political pawns in Washington, DC. Trump misused the Guard. That’s regrettable.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.