Top-level U.S. military commanders have subtle ways of letting a president know when they strongly disapprove of his leadership. Rather than risk open displays of insubordination, they let high-profile military retirees do their bidding. And the message four-star retirees have delivered in recent days is that the current commander in chief is driving America into a ditch.
Emissaries in the past week have let President Donald Trump know how badly he miscalculated by ordering U.S. troops to withdraw from northern Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added extra sting to their message in a Washington Post op-ed, republished in this newspaper Tuesday, in which he criticized the Syria decision as foolhardy. In the worst dig, McConnell compared it to the "retreat" from Iraq by Trump's nemesis, former President Barack Obama.
Last week, two of the most respected four-star commanders, retired Adm. William McRaven and Trump's former defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, blasted the president. Mattis mocked Trump during a speech in New York for having denigrated Mattis' military leadership as "overrated." Mattis quipped, "I have earned my spurs on the battlefield. Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor." Trump, who fancies himself smarter on military affairs than his generals, avoided service during the Vietnam War by obtaining a medical deferment for bone spurs.
McRaven, writing in The New York Times, noted having just come from a change-of-command ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., in which the nation's top-level military brass were present. "As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, a retired four-star general grabbed my arm, shook it and shouted, 'I don't like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!'" McRaven wrote.
No four-star general, retired or active, is likely to shout statements like that at a military ceremony unless he knows those around him are in agreement.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus went on CNN Sunday to press the point further about what he described as Trump's strategic blunder in Syria.
Even in retirement, general commanders such as McRaven, Petraeus and Mattis are never completely relieved of their military responsibilities. They can be ordered back into service at any time. Trump remains their commander. Their refusal to remain silent speaks volumes about the damage they believe he's doing.
Adding to commanders' concerns are Trump's inappropriate attempts to influence further disciplinary action against Navy Seals Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who was acquitted in July in a war-crimes court martial. With Trump's public assurances of protection, Gallagher has been emboldened to go on the attack against top Navy commanders, labeling two of them "a bunch of morons" on Instagram.
Examples abound of the ways Trump squanders and abuses his command authority. Perhaps that general should have shouted louder so the entire nation could hear: Trump is destroying the republic!
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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