Partisan battles are a contact sport in Washington . Few people expect congressmen to reach across the aisle as they did just a couple of decades ago. At first, public perception of politicians decreased. Then, respect for media hemorrhaged as journalists abandoned even the pretense of neutrality and as the line between reporting and editorializing disintegrated.

Increasingly, would-be students and their families question whether higher education is worth it, given the combination of soaring prices and indoctrination under the guise of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Corporations also find themselves at the epicenter of competing boycotts as executives realize political virtue signaling has a price.

The FBI and intelligence community, too, allowed themselves to descend the partisan rabbit hole at the expense of their credibility as they allowed political operatives to hijack them and as recent retirees tweeted or signed partisan letters, each of which eroded their decades-earned reputation for neutrality.

As American institutions tore themselves apart or allowed politics to infiltrate everything, the military initially stood apart. Even though a decreasing proportion of people serve or even know those who do, the military’s professionalism and studious efforts to avoid even the appearance of partisanship long enabled the military to stand alone as an institution widely respected across the partisan spectrum.

One of the most deleterious legacies of the Trump administration, though, was growing efforts to politicize the service. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, erred when he walked with President Donald Trump through Lafayette Square after police used tear gas to clear the area adjacent to the White House of Black Lives Matter protesters. To Milley’s credit, he readily acknowledged the error, but the damage was done.

Nor was Milley alone in his stumble into partisanship. Democratic and Republican organizations gathered retired flag officers to sign letters meant to endorse certain positions or vilify others. Each letter made headlines but became a chip in the credibility of the institution.

Such letters are bad enough, but they are minor compared to the poor judgment of retired flag officers who endorse the Mujahedin al Khalq Organization, or MEK, a cultlike group of Iranian exiles complicit in past terrorism against Americans.

In recent years, the group has collected extensive endorsements, usually in exchange for generous donations or honoraria. Gens. Hugh Shelton and Peter Pace, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander Europe; Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of U.S. Central Command; Gen. James Jones, former national security adviser; Gen. James Conway, former commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff have each signed onto statements or endorsed MEK leader Maryam Rajavi.

Rather than encourage freedom for Iran or an end to Iranian terror, each sets back the cause due to the hatred ordinary Iranians have for a group that first allied with Ayatollah Khomeini and then defected to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

As top military retirees endorse a cult leader for cash, not only does the United States lose credibility in the eyes of ordinary Iranians, but the Iranian regime uses the endorsements to rally ordinary Iranians around the nationalist flag.

The damage retired officers do by accepting MEK largesse is not limited to the Iran matter. Taking money from the MEK corrupts the reputation of the U.S. military. Rajavi or the various organizations she controls do not offer honoraria or plane tickets to Shelton and Jones because she respects them or their knowledge of Iran. Rather, she wants to rent associations with the positions they held in the military.

In effect, there is little difference between allowing Rajavi’s organization to ghostwrite op-eds and former national security adviser Michael Flynn turning his pen over to Turkey’s regime. Strictly speaking, it might be legal, but it is deeply unethical and smells like corruption.

Those accepting MEK cash may believe there is no price to pay for an easy reward, but they are wrong: The price extracted from the military’s reputation is huge.

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