Is Joe Biden Issuing Legal Orders to the US Military?

Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

Is it legal for a U.S. president to order American troops to take action that enables a genocide? I should think not. The president takes essentially the same oath of office as military members do. Its essential thrust is supporting and defending the U.S. Constitution. As the civilian commander-in-chief, the President issues orders to the military that are of course authoritative, that must be obeyed, except when those orders are illegal. So, for example, U.S. presidents shouldn’t be able to order torture, nor should they be able to issue orders that contribute to genocide, and, if they do, service members are within their rights to refuse to obey such orders. Indeed, if they put “integrity first” (the leading Air Force core value) as well as the U.S. Constitution, one might argue that should feel compelled by conscience to disobey.

It’s not an easy issue for sure, because the Biden administration claims that Israel is not prosecuting a genocide in Gaza. In fact, the Biden administration sees Israel as a vital ally to America, fully deserving of near-total U.S. support, therefore any service member who objects to orders on legal or moral grounds runs up against the full authority and weight of the chain of command.

Honestly, I’m glad I was never put in this position when I was in the U.S. military. Yet I still think about it. How would I feel as an Air Force officer loading or flying 2000-pound bombs to Israel to be dropped on Palestinians in Gaza? How would I feel as a Navy officer covering the flanks of Israel so that the IDF can concentrate its forces in murderous assaults on Gaza? How would these and similar actions be in the cause of defending America and supporting the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic?

(In the video clip above, Matthew Hoh further discusses this issue. I highly recommend it.)

Judging by this article by Mike Prysner, more than a few service members within the U.S. military have their own doubts, with some seeking conscientious objector status and others going AWOL or simply refusing to consider reenlisting. I have to assume that a lot of Soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen are thinking, “This is not what I volunteered for. This is not serving the best interests of my country, most especially the rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, to which I swore an oath.”

So, it’s quite possible Joe Biden is issuing illegal or at the very least morally questionable orders to American troops. Shouldn’t this matter? Shouldn’t Americans be talking about this more?

I’m not picking on Biden here. I strongly condemned Donald Trump back in 2016 when he claimed U.S. troops would follow his orders no matter what, even if he ordered torture, assassinations, and other acts forbidden by law.

Either we follow the law or we don’t. Either we respect the Constitution or we don’t. Either we use our military wisely or we don’t.

Beware the military that has been used poorly by its leaders. Beware the military that feels betrayed. For that military will soon be hollow, or, even worse, estranged from the people and the nation, and perhaps angry enough to seek vengeance.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.