WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2017 — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today used the situation in The Gambia, where a serving president refused to give up power to his freely elected successor, as an example of why the peaceful transfer of power in the United States shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told the members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society that the events in West Africa show how rare America’s democracy really is.
“If you look at the state challenges that we identify – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – not one of those countries enjoys the experience that we will have tomorrow,” Dunford said.
An Extraordinary Experience
The will of the people is not part of their DNA, and the leaders of these countries stay in office sometimes for decades. “I really believe, despite all the political rhetoric that’s out there, that tomorrow is an extraordinary experience for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First the outgoing president will be there with the incoming president, and there will be a peaceful turnover.”
Mirroring that peaceful turnover was an exercise last week in which all of the outgoing and incoming Cabinet officials participated, the chairman told the audience. “We all sat in a room … for about three hours, and we talked about all the situations the new administration could confront in the first 90 to 120 days,” he said.
Politics was not mentioned at the exercise, the chairman noted. “Not for one second did we talk about personal agendas. Not for one second did we talk about anything other than ‘This is what’s best for the country,’” he said. “The old team was committed to make sure the new team knew what they needed to know to make sure our country can get through a crisis in the first 90 to 120 days.”
And that is as it should be, the general said.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is made up Medal of Honor recipients, and they are honored guests at every inauguration. They will sit on the dais on the steps of the Capitol tomorrow as President-elect Donald J. Trump takes the oath of office. That the men who received America’s highest award for valor will be there pleases the chairman.
The Resilience of Institutions
“There are those in this country who have forgotten what tomorrow is all about,” he said. “Tomorrow is about our country. Tomorrow is about the resilience of our institutions. What tomorrow is about is the American people and those looking out for them – whether in the legislative branch of our government or the executive – making decisions that are informed by what’s best for the American people. Some people have lost sight of that.”
Dunford said he hopes that as the camera shows the members of the society at the inauguration and that the American people realize the peaceful transition of power “didn’t happen by accident.”
“It’s because Americans over the years have made the kind of sacrifices necessary” to maintain those rights and values, he added.
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