There Trump held up a bible for the cameras, which will surely be an iconic image of his presidency as the coronavirus ravages the United States and riots and protests rage in its cities.
Trump’s discussion of the sometimes violent protests that have occurred across the United States over the past week with US governors on a phone call Monday that became public in a leaked audio confirms that he and his “war cabinet” have a militarized view of the unrest in American cities.
Good for Thomas, but his tweet has received scant attention as yet. We need more senior retired generals to say that violence against peaceful protesters is unacceptable and that using the US military aside from the national guard to police protests is fundamentally an un-American idea.
Adm. Bill McRaven, the architect of the bin Laden raid, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who turned Joint Special Operations Command into one of the most lethal fighting forces in US history, have been willing to call out the President for his dishonesty and divisiveness.
But isn’t it time to hear now also from former US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired four-star general who commanded CENTCOM that oversees America’s wars in the greater Middle East and who led the US Marines into Baghdad in 2003?
Or from former national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster who fought heroically both in the first Gulf War and the Iraq War and whose PhD dissertation that became a book about the Vietnam War is one of the key texts about the proper role of relations between a US president and his generals?
It’s past time for Mattis to abandon his position that he won’t speak out against President Trump. In his 2019 autobiography “Call Sign Chaos,” Mattis observed, “I’m old fashioned: I don’t write about sitting Presidents.” This conception of the proper role of retired senior US generals that they shouldn’t make statements about contemporaneous political matters may work in times of normalcy but this is not one of those times.
Now would be an important time for Mattis to break his silence. Mattis can use his considerable stature for the common good to push back on Trump’s dangerous ideas about deploying the US federal military in American cities and also to condemn the President’s role in attacking peaceful protestors outside the White House.
Retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly also has the experience and gravitas to make similar points. Kelly led SOUTHCOM which oversees all of US military operations south of the US-Mexico border and later became Trump’s chief of staff.
And McMaster could also use his considerable stature to speak out about the politicization of the US military by the Trump administration.
McMaster’s book described the failures of American generals to stand up to President Lyndon Johnson and to provide him truthful military advice about the conduct of the Vietnam War, which Johnson saw largely through the lens of his domestic political fortunes.
We have reached a similar point in the United States where the Pentagon is being used for Trump’s political purposes and it’s time to push back.