Ex-four-star generals in war of words, wits against Trump

RETIRED FOUR-STAR ADMIRAL WILLIAM MCRAVEN, writing in an op-ed for The New York Times with the headline: Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President.
RETIRED FOUR-STAR ADMIRAL WILLIAM MCRAVEN, writing in an op-ed for The New York Times with the headline: Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President.
RETIRED FOUR-STAR MARINE GENERAL JOHN ALLEN.
RETIRED FOUR-STAR MARINE GENERAL JOHN ALLEN.
RETIRED FOUR-STAR ARMY GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, writing in a piece for The Atlantic.
RETIRED FOUR-STAR ARMY GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, writing in a piece for The Atlantic.

WASHINGTON • Revenge is a dish best served funny.

That seems to be retired four-star Marine Corps general James Mattis' view. "I earned my spurs on the battlefield," he said at a charity gala in New York last Thursday night. "Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor."

Ten months after Mr Mattis resigned in protest, President Trump described his former secretary of defence as "the world's most overrated general" and "not tough enough" during a meeting with congressional leaders last Wednesday.

In a speech disguised as self-deprecating comedy at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, Mr Mattis made light of this. "I'm not just an overrated general. I am the greatest, the world's most overrated," he quipped.

"I'm honoured to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress. So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals."

Meanwhile, during a raucous rally in Dallas that took place simultaneously, Mr Trump said it was actually wise for him to allow Turkish forces to invade Syria and attack the Kurds.

Retired four-star admiral William McRaven is less oblique than Mr Mattis about Mr Trump.

He wrote an op-ed for The New York Times with the headline: Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President. The former Navy Seal and Special Operations commander who oversaw the killing of Osama bin Laden and the capture of Saddam Hussein recalls attending a change of command ceremony about a week ago at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

VALUES, DUTY AND HONOUR

If we don't care about our values, if we don't care about duty and honour, if we don't help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice - what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

RETIRED FOUR-STAR ADMIRAL WILLIAM MCRAVEN, writing in an op-ed for The New York Times with the headline: Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President.

BLOOD ON TRUMP'S HANDS

There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies.

RETIRED FOUR-STAR MARINE GENERAL JOHN ALLEN

AFFECTING FUTURE PARTNERSHIPS

The decision (to withdraw from Syria) was made without consulting US allies or senior US military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public, coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us.

RETIRED FOUR-STAR ARMY GENERAL JOSEPH VOTEL, writing in a piece for The Atlantic.

Another retired four-star general grabbed him by the arm, shook him and shouted: "I don't like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic." The former US Navy chief agreed.

"Those words echoed with me throughout the week," he wrote. "We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys...

"But, if we don't care about our values, if we don't care about duty and honour, if we don't help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice - what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?"

Retired generals Mattis and McRaven are the latest in a string of retired four-star military officers to speak out against Mr Trump recently.

Retired four-star Marine general John Allen said last Sunday: "There is blood on Trump's hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies."

The former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS under Mr Barack Obama told CNN that the unfolding crisis in Syria was "completely foreseeable" after Mr Trump "greenlighted it". The White House denies that Mr Trump did so.

"This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats," said Mr Allen, who opposed Mr Trump during the 2016 campaign. "I said there would be blood but could not have imagined this outcome."

Mr Trump's decision to withdraw "could not come at a worse time", said retired four-star army general Joseph Votel, who headed Central Command's military operations in Syria until spring.

"The decision was made without consulting US allies or senior US military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public, coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us," Mr Votel wrote in a recent piece for The Atlantic, an American magazine and multi-platform publisher.

Mr Trump populated his inner circle with generals when he took office. He said they looked the part and came "out of central casting". They are all gone now: generals Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and James Mattis.

Others who were never on board with Mr Trump have drawn the President's ire. Last November, he lashed out at Mr McRaven when Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked about his comment that Mr Trump referring to the free press as "the enemy of the people" is the greatest threat to democracy.

Rather than respond to the substance of this critique, Mr Trump called Mr McRaven a "Hillary Clinton fan" and an "Obama backer".

Then he said the retired four-star admiral should have caught terrorist Osama earlier.

Mr Mattis closed his speech with a serious tone as he praised America's "Kurdish allies" and quoted 16th US president Abraham Lincoln about the danger of "corrosion from within".

Critics are faulting Mr Mattis for not going far enough. They say it is wrong to trivialise his critique by making it funny.

Many of these same critics also faulted Mr Mattis last month for not being more forthcoming in his memoir. Call Sign Chaos: Learning To Lead is not a tell-all about Mr Trump. It is a reflection on four decades in the Marine Corps - with references to Mr Trump only in the first and final pages.

The book is chock-full, however, of implicit and illuminating contrasts between Mr Mattis' management style and Mr Trump's.

"If you haven't read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren't broad enough to sustain you," Mr Mattis writes.

"Any commander who claims he is 'too busy to read' is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way."

Mr Trump has repeatedly said that he is too busy to read.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 20, 2019, with the headline 'Ex-four-star generals in war of words, wits against Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe