Retired military leaders who were nominated to senior positions by former President Obama began speaking out this week against President Trump, as he warned of using the military to end violent riots throughout the nation.
Their speaking out comes as Trump on Monday deployed the D.C. National Guardsmen and called up active duty forces to be on standby to protect the nation’s Capitol, after rioters defaced national monuments, looted, and burned a historic church.
On Wednesday, Trump’s first Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, a Democrat whom Obama nominated as Central Command commander, blasted the president in an op-ed published in the left-leaning Atlantic media outlet where he blamed Trump for dividing the country. Mattis wrote:
Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.
Mattis compared Trump to a Nazi, writing that instructions given to troops before the Normandy invasion in World War II were that the “Nazi slogan for destroying us” was “Divide and Conquer … . Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'”
Mattis’ statement came after Democrats called on him to speak out against Trump.
Neera Tanden, president of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, tweeted Tuesday: “Where is Mattis?”
Where is Mattis? Officers who believe in our Constitution? Why are there not mass resignations in the military? Where is there honor? https://t.co/gVptbK6VeZ
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) June 3, 2020
NPR journalist Kai Ryssdal tweeted Monday: “I wonder where Jim Mattis is right now.”
I wonder where Jim Mattis is right now.
— Kai Ryssdal (@kairyssdal) June 1, 2020
Before Mattis, Navy Adm. (Ret.) Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was re-nominated by Obama, spoke out in an op-ed that was also published in the Atlantic.
I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.
Furthermore, I am deeply worried that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes.
Army Gen. (Ret.) Martin Dempsey, whom Obama nominated to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began on June 1 tweeting veiled criticism of the administration:
America’s military, our sons and daughters, will place themselves at risk to protect their fellow citizens. Their job is unimaginably hard overseas; harder at home. Respect them, for they respect you. America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy. #BeBetter
— GEN(R) Martin E. Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) June 1, 2020
Leftist news outlet Slate cheered their statements in a piece entitled: “The Officers’ Revolt: Military commanders are finally speaking out against Trump.”
The piece mixed opinions from retired military leaders and currently serving military leaders, and conflated retired military officers’ criticism of Trump with current military leaders’ statements of support for fighting racism.
For example, it cited “senior military officers” “turning against him,” but first cited Mullen, who is retired and no longer serving:
Senior military officers are turning against him as well. So far, this is a tentative, uncoordinated tilt—officers are trained, from the time they’re cadets, to stay out of politics and to obey lawful orders from civilian authority—but there is growing concern about Trump’s use of the military for his own partisan purposes and, with it, a growing recognition of the need to speak out.
The first public outburst came on Tuesday, from retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wrote in the Atlantic, “I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent.
The criticism of Trump comes after he gave a strongly worded speech on Monday where he warned he would use active-duty forces to restore order where mass rioting and violence was taking place.
Trump then walked across the street from the White House to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was defaced and burned by rioters. Before that walk, police had forcefully cleared the path of protesters.
Earlier in the day, Trump had also urged state governors to use the National Guard to get control of their cities, which had faced days of violent riots, looting — and in some cases, murder of police officers and other protesters.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper urged them to “dominate the battlespace,” but has walked back his comments, saying he would choose different words next time.