Chalmers is hardly the first officer to be asked about views expressed in the U.S. presidential election. It’s happened repeatedly in recent months, putting senior military leaders in the uncomfortable position of weighing in on political rhetoric even though a Defense Department directive prohibits them from engaging in “partisan political activity.” That directive does not forbid active-duty members of the military from speaking their mind as individuals on political issues, but senior military officers still usually steer clear of making statements that could be construed as political.
As the presidential election season has continued, however, senior defense officials have been asked repeatedly to weigh in and provide a reality check. Most commonly, that has been in response to statements made by Trump, although after Ted Cruz claimed that he would “carpet-bomb” the Islamic State the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, said in February “indiscriminate bombing” is “inconsistent with our values.”
The unofficial ground rules appear to be that military officials will discuss issues raised by Trump and other candidates, but most commonly they, lawmakers and journalists all avoid naming the candidates when doing so.