I'm a Former Marine. If Trump Orders Military Force, Protesters Will Die | Opinion

President Donald Trump's threat to militarize the government's response to the protests and riots happening around the country has been widely denounced. Yet after announcing on Sunday that he has ordered National Guard troops to withdraw from the nation's capital, Trump added that they "can quickly return, if needed."

Military forces are not "needed" to repress public protests. That wasn't what I was trained to do as a Marine. And if I were ordered to do it now, as Americans are responding to a long history of black people losing their lives at the hands of law enforcement, I would be torn about refusing to obey an order and abandoning my Marines. Such a grave decision on the part of the president might prevent racial tensions in this country from ever being resolved.

I was trained as a logistician, meaning I specialized in how to get supplies to Marines facing combat, as well as in fighting in our primary regions of warfare, Iraq and Afghanistan. I went through my schooling in 2013-14, before we retook Mosul, while ISIS was in full force and combat operations were still the norm.

We serve at the behest of Congress and the commander in chief. We are required, in uniform, to support the president, no matter who he or she is. I was trained to obey and understand specific rules of engagement and escalation of force, as well as the Geneva Conventions.

Although Trump and some lawmakers may think the Department of Defense is as versatile as a multi-tool, it isn't. It doesn't specialize in civil unrest. It specializes in violent war. And what's happening in cities and streets across the country is not a war.

We have definitions of war at our disposal. The Marine Corps' foundational text on maneuver warfare says: "The essence of war is a violent struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other." It also says, "War is an act of violence based on irreconcilable disagreement."

The commander in chief should know that when he calls in forces, the goal is destruction—or for a rifle squad of Marines, "to close with and destroy the enemy." No commanding officer can tell his troops to show up, ready to fight, but not fight too hard against certain members of the enemy. Not because service members are inherently violent but because war is inherently chaotic and uncertain.

The only possible target in this case is the protesters. Even the looting rioters, who represent a small minority of the protesters, are not the same as insurgents laying IEDs. And although peace is the ultimate goal of the military, it is achieved by aggressive, fierce dominance. Armed forces taking on protesters may cause them to go away, but make no mistake: People would die. And even one more death is too many.

It's not even clear to me that Trump is capable of leading military forces. When Marines receive orders for a mission, officers follow a specific Marine Corps Planning Process. The first step is "problem framing." Problem framing is a "higher level of understanding [that is] especially useful in debunking invalid assumptions, inaccurate stereotypes, and erroneous capability assessments. Since no amount of subsequent planning can solve a problem insufficiently understood, framing the problem is critical."

The president's frame on the protests is inaccurate. For instance, he wants to declare Antifa a terrorist organization—but it's not an organization at all, regardless of my opinion of it. It's a bunch of loosely related groups, which should be condemned for continued acts of violence. It seems the president's desire for a clearly defined enemy overrides his desire to accurately assess the situation on the ground.

protesters George Floyd
Demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial react to speeches during a protest against police brutality and racism on June 6 in Washington, D.C. Paul Morigi/Getty

Trump argues the Insurrection Act would give him the authority to deploy active military or federalized National Guard units to quell the protests. Yet in most cases, the law requires a state's legislature or governor to ask for the help before it can be triggered. States seem, so far, unwilling to go along with this. Therefore, there may be little risk of this happening outside of D.C.

However, Republican leaders are still extremely eager to please Trump. The chances that at least one Republican governor allowing the president to flex his military muscle isn't small. In a highly controversial op-ed, Senator Tom Cotton already publicly supported him.

I understand that our nation's leaders also can't let people continue to be slain. Since George Floyd's death, at least 12 people have died in incidents related to the protests, with some tallies even higher, and countless others have been seriously injured. But preventing more deaths will take dialogue and diplomacy.

As James Mattis remarked in 2013, before he became secretary of defense, "If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately." Violence is often the result of a lack of effective diplomacy. That's why we have the protests and the riots in the first place; leaders have not achieved dialogue with communities of color who feel under siege from local police departments.

The only way to prevent more deaths and bring Americans together is for Trump to talk to these protesters—not order foolish assertions of military force. Refusing to do so is a direct statement from the president that racial tensions in this country can never be resolved. Not only do I disagree with that assessment, but I view it as a cowardly surrender.

Kelsey Baker is a former Marine who deployed to Kuwait and to Iraq. She holds a M.A. in diplomacy, with a concentration in international terrorism.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.