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Retired Gen. John Allen Weighs In On Campaign With Hillary Clinton Endorsement


This past week, retired Marine Corps General John Allen gave a passionate speech in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with the general who was commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and, most recently, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: General, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us.

JOHN ALLEN: Great to be with you today.

MARTIN: You have spent a lifetime in the military being apolitical. That's what being in the military is all about.

ALLEN: That's right - exactly right.

MARTIN: What has compelled you to say, in this moment, that Hillary Clinton should be the next commander-in-chief?

ALLEN: You know, this world is full of challenges right now. And in and of itself, I believe in her. You know, the United States is that transformational power in the world today. But it doesn't do it on its own. It does it through the mechanism of alliances and relationships. And she gets that. She understands that. She wants to reinforce that. And language that would seem to diminish the importance of NATO or to pull out some of the fundamental tenets of what NATO is, Article 5 - an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us...

MARTIN: Which Donald Trump has suggested...

ALLEN: Yes. I mean...

MARTIN: ...At least re-evaluating those alliances.

ALLEN: ...That kind of rhetoric erodes the relationships inside NATO. It erodes its credibility. She just gets this. She understands it. That's why I came out because this was a moment where the choices are very stark. And supporting her at this moment to be the president of the United States seemed to me to be, frankly, my duty.

MARTIN: During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I mean, there was an overwhelming sense of doom. The message was the world is violent and dangerous. Donald Trump is the guy to steer America through that. Do you understand the sense from people who support Donald Trump that it is a scary world? When you look at how ISIS, in particular, has metastasized and the threats seem to just be popping up all over - do you get that fear on the other side? Do you understand it?

ALLEN: Well, of course, I do. The challenges we face today from ISIL, from Russia, from China, from Iran, from North Korea - I don't want to add to people's fears here - those are real and immediate concerns for the United States of America. But we're going - only be able to handle these in relationship to our partners - you know, the strength of NATO, the strength of our relationships in East Asia, the strengths of our relationships with our Arab partners in the gulf, reinforcing the global coalition to counter ISIL. All of those things require leadership. And all of those things, in the end, give us some capacity to resolve or at least to meet these challenges.

MARTIN: President Obama, in his address, said that Hillary Clinton can finish the job. Those were his words when talking about the threat from ISIS. But how? I mean, what would she do that would be so different than what his administration has done? - which is also a criticism that you hear from Donald Trump. What would she do differently? And whatever they have done hasn't ameliorated the threat.

ALLEN: Well, I think, you know, a couple of things, and the strategy is working. Daesh is being defeated on the ground in Iraq and Syria. It's going to take a while. We've always said that.

MARTIN: Daesh is the Arabic word for...

ALLEN: ...The so-called Islamic State.

MARTIN: ...Islamic State.

ALLEN: The idea of countering the messaging and stopping the flow of foreign fighters and strangling the finances and constricting its surface area - all of those things are having effect. It took a while for it to happen. We took those guys head-on about 18 months ago. And it takes a while to reverse strategic momentum. And that strategic momentum is substantially reversed, and I think we'll be able to continue that.

MARTIN: Lastly, Donald Trump has, at some points during the campaign, suggested that if he disagreed with generals about a particular national security issue that he would get them in line - that he would somehow override them. As you have watched and listened to his rhetoric, what has struck you the most - concerned you the most?

ALLEN: Well, I have to tell you, one of the reasons that I'm doing this is the horror that I experienced the first time I heard him tell the American public that he would convince the generals to use the American military as an instrument of torture. This is going to create a civil military crisis that has never occurred in this country before. And words are windows into people's souls.

The implication that, potentially over the objections of our military and civilian leadership, our military could be used as an instrument of torture or an instrument to track down and murder the families of terrorists, that's a problem. That's a problem. And when our military may find itself in a situation where it has to say that is an illegal order issued by the president of the United States, this is a civil military crisis.

MARTIN: Retired Marine Corps General John Allen, thank you so much for taking the time.

ALLEN: Rachel, great to be with you today. Thanks.

HU: That's General John Allen speaking with NPR's Rachel Martin this past week at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.