Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports: Retired military leaders step up with fierce Trump criticisms. Traditionally, most retired generals and admirals prefer to stay on the political sideline. The Trump era, however, is anything but normal.
There are examples from American history of presidents clashing with former and active-duty military leaders, but Donald Trump has broken new ground in this area.
Early on in his presidency, the Republican seemed a bit too eager, for example, to blame U.S. military leaders for failed missions he approved, and reportedly lashed out at generals privately as “a bunch of dopes and babies.” Trump also, of course, went on the offensive against his own former Defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis – whom he accused of acting like a “Democrat” for questioning the White House’s less-defensible national security moves.
It appears the brass is starting to find it necessary to push back.
President Donald Trump is facing an unprecedented revolt from the elite corps of ex-military leaders and presidents over his brazen response to mass protests and inflaming of racial divides.
To be sure, Mattis’ striking and historically significant presidential rebuke yesterday was a breakthrough moment, but the retired four-star general is hardly alone.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tony Thomas, the former head of the Special Operations Command, both publicly criticized White House tactics this week. Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a Bush-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was even more forceful in denouncing Team Trump.
Late yesterday, Foreign Policy magazine published a piece from retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, who argued that Trump is putting “the American experiment” at risk. Reflecting on the threat the president peddled on Monday, Allen added, “There is no precedent in modern U.S. history for a president to wield federal troops in a state or municipality over the objections of the respective governor. Right now, the last thing the country needs – and, frankly, the U.S. military needs – is the appearance of U.S. soldiers carrying out the president’s intent by descending on American citizens.”
For good measure, Russel Honore, a retired lieutenant general, wrote on Twitter this morning that he’s now ignoring Trump’s missives – because the president offers “too much bull s**t.” (He had some related thoughts on MSNBC’s “All In” last night.)
This isn’t at all normal. Traditionally, most retired generals and admirals prefer to stay on the political sideline. Under this president, however, normal flew out the window quite a while ago.
Trump, who apparently faked an injury to avoid military service, boasted last year, “I think I would have been a good general.” It appears many of those who actually became generals have a very different assessment in mind.
Last, but not least (maybe) …
Here is the memo from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to all DoD personnel.
MEMORANDUM FOR ALL DOD PERSONNEL
SUBJECT: Message to the Department - Support to Civil Authorities
JUN - 2 2020
The United States military has been the greatest force for good in our Nation’s history. While we often see the impact of our efforts overseas, every President has at times deployed military forces for domestic missions as well. In the last few months, for example, America’s men and women in uniform - Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard - have worked day and night across our communities to confront the COVID–19 crisis. This historic mission was just the most recent example of our longstanding support to civilian authorities - from pandemics to hurricanes, and from wildfires to providing security after 9/11 .
Throughout these response efforts, I have been incredibly proud of our Service members and their hard work to assist our fellow Americans. This past week, our support to civil authority mission - that had been focused on COVID–19 - changed. Our National Guard are now also being called upon across the country to help protect our communities, businesses, monuments, and places of worship.
Department of Defense personnel have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. I myself have taken it many times in my military and civilian careers, and believe strongly in it. As part of that oath, we commit to protecting the American people’s right to freedom of speech and to peaceful assembly. I, like you, am steadfast in my belief that Americans who are frustrated, angry, and seeking to be heard must be ensured that opportunity. And like you, I am committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting life and liberty, so that the violent actions of a few do not undermine the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.
I appreciate your professionalism and dedication to defending the Constitution for all Americans. Moreover, I am amazed by the countless remarkable accomplishments of the Department o f Defense in today ’ s trying times - from repatriating and sheltering Americans who were evacuated from a foreign land, to delivering food and medical supplies to communities in need, and to protecting our cities and communities. In every challenge, and across every mission, the U.S. military has remained ready, capable, and willing to serve.
As I reminded you in February, I ask that you remember at all times our commitment as a Department and as public servants to stay apolitical in these turbulent days. For well over two centuries, the U.S. military has earned the respect of the American people by being there to protect and serve all Americans. Through your steadfast dedication to the mission and our core values, and your enduring support to your fellow Americans, we will safeguard the hard-earned trust and confidence of the public, as our Nation’s most respected institution.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff weighed in with his own memo.
Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the heads of the Joint Forces in a June 2 memo to “please remind all our troops and leaders that we will uphold the values of our nation, and operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct at all times.” In handwritten note included in the memo, Milley wrote, “we all committed our lives to the idea that is America – we will stay true to that oath and the American people.”
From Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American):
James Stavridis, the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, expressed dismay at the use of the military against peaceful protesters. Soldiers ”are not meant to be turned against their fellow citizens,” he wrote. “Our founding fathers feared the use of a standing army that could be used to further the aims of a dictator…. The idea of “boots on the ground” and “dominating the battlespace” in our American cities is anathema to America.” He invoked Tiananmen Square, where the Chinese government brutally suppressed protesters exactly 31 years ago, killing and wounding thousands, as a warning for what could happen if the military gets dragged into domestic politics.
It is not just military leaders who have spoken out against Trump. As of today, all four living presidents– Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama– have all called for racial justice and a better government