Biden delivered his speech in front of the building where the US Constitution was written, while two Marines in blue clothes stood in the background. Red light bathed the building and the Marines.
Biden warns US of powerful threat from anti-democratic forces
Presidents have long used American troops and military equipment to address the American people. But military officials have often tried to limit how people in uniform are drawn into the political spotlight, holding on to the belief that the military is an institution that protects all Americans, regardless of political affiliation.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, acknowledged that the administration made a conscious decision to include the Marines for symbolism.
“The president made an important speech last night about our democracy and our values, values that our men and women in uniform fight to protect every day,” the official said in a statement. “The presence of Marines at the address was intended to demonstrate the deep and abiding respect the President has for their service to these ideals and the unique role our independent military plays in defending our democracy, no matter which party holds power. is.”
For some scholars studying civil-military affairs, using the Marines as a background for the speech was unwise.
Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University, said that while presidents are political actors, they “must be careful not to frame the military when they engage in partisan, political acts.”
“In this case, the choice to literally keep the Marines’ guards in the frame was an unfortunate one,” said Feaver, who on numerous occasions expressed concern about Trump’s politicization of the military. “It can even distract from the message if people debate the optics rather than the content of the president’s speech.”
Lindsay Cohn, who studies civil-military affairs at the Naval War College, said Biden being framed by Marines during the speech “wasn’t a crisis, but it could and should have been avoided.”
Cohn said she can see an argument that Biden made a necessary and impartial speech in which he explicitly noted that not all Republicans are a threat. But she added that the Biden administration must be “oversensitive and careful with optics to try to strengthen some of the norms” that the Trump administration has weakened.
Addressing US troops at the Pentagon in February 2020 at the start of his administration, Biden said he would never disdain them and “never politicize the work you do.”
Biden’s critics — including many who were silent during Trump’s battles with the Pentagon — pounced on the use of the Marines.
“The only thing worse than Biden’s speech wrecking his fellow citizens is wrapping himself in our flag and Marines to do it,” tweeted Representative Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.)
The only thing worse than Biden’s speech to destroy his fellow citizens is wrapping himself in our flag and Marines to do it.
— Rep. Darrell Issa (@repdarrellissa) September 2, 2022
James Hutton, a Veterans Affairs official during the Trump administration, tweeted that Biden “used Marines as props for his divisive and clearly political speech.”
Biden’s supporters responded by pointing to the many ways in which Trump undermined the impartial nature of the military.
In June 2020, he spent days trying to use US troops on active duty to quell the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, alarming senior Pentagon officials who saw his plans as an abuse of power. At the height of the crisis, federal forces cleared protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House before Trump led other senior US officials to a nearby church for a photo opportunity. Gene. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, later apologized for appearing briefly with the president outside the White House, saying his presence at the time “created the perception of the military being involved in domestic politics.”
Early in his administration, Trump traveled to the Pentagon and signed executive measures, including an order designed to severely curtail immigration from several Muslim-majority countries. He did so in the Pentagon’s “Hall of Heroes,” a room dedicated to the military’s Medal of Honor recipients.