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Former Defense Secretary Mattis Breaks Silence to Berate Trump

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis arrives at the Memorial Amphitheater during the 149th annual Department of Defense (DoD) National Memorial Day Observance at Arlington National Cemetery, May 29, 2017. Senior leadership from around the DoD gathered to honor America’s fallen military service members. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann) Date: 29 May 2017, 11:12 Source: 170529-D-SW162-1340 Author: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote for The Atlantic.

Thus began the retired Marine general’s sharply critical take on President Donald Trump’s response to protests over the alleged murder of George Floyd. The statement, entitled “In Union There Is Strength,” followed on the heels of yesterday’s announcement from Mattis’ successor, Mark Esper, stating that he does not support using the Insurrection Act to squash protests. 

Mattis affirmed his support for the demonstrations, even calling for others to add their voices to the calls for justice.

“The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding,” Mattis wrote. “It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind.”

“Bizarre Photo Op”

He was also critical of Monday’s photo-op that Trump led in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church at Lafayette Square in Washington. As the president made his way from the White House to the church, protestors and clergy members were cleared out of his path. Reverend Gina Gerbasi was among those teargassed, CBS News reported.

“I was coughing with tear gas in my clergy collar, and my gray hair, and my old lady reading glasses, so that that man could stand there and hold a Bible in his hand and look Christian,” Gerbasi told WUSA. “And it would be far more Christian if he would behave according to the words in that book instead of just carrying it around with him as a prop.”

Gerbasi and church officials were not informed beforehand, she said.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Mattis used the opportunity to also chide Esper for calling protests ‘battlespaces,’ saying we must resist that line of thought. On Wednesday, Esper said he regretted his use of the word.

The problem with ordering the military to intervene, Mattis wrote, is that it “sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society.” The power to call the military to quell protests should only one done by state governors, but the duty of maintaining order falls first and foremost to civilian leaders because they are in the best position to understand their communities and are also held accountable to them, he said.

“Three Years Without Mature Leadership”

Before the allied invasion of Normandy in World War II, American soldiers were told “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength,’” Mattis said. The central argument of his opinion piece revolved around the notion that America is not united. Commenting on this perspective, Mattis directly attacked Trump.

“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,” Mattis said. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

The retired general wrote that in lieu of a leadership to unite the nation under Trump, Americans can do it without the president, but it “will not be easy, as the past few days have shown.”

However, upstanding Americans working on the frontlines and service industries have exhibited an example for others to follow, he said.

“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution,” Mattis wrote.

The President Responds

Trump responded to Mattis’ commentary on the situation in a tweet.

“Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was “Chaos”, which I didn’t like, & changed to “Mad Dog”…” Trump said. “…His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom “brought home the bacon”. I didn’t like his “leadership” style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”

Although Trump claimed to have given Mattis his nickname, it has been in use “since at least 2004,” Snopes reported. Mattis broke with the Obama administration over the handling of Iran, where Mattis wanted more permission to engage the enemy. 

Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, 2018, the day after Trump announced the immediate withdrawal of US forces from Syria. Trump decided to make the resignation effective sooner than Mattis originally intended, ending his career on Jan. 1, 2019.

Early reactions from Republican senators found large them largely sticking by their president, CNN reported.

“It’s just politically fashionable to blame Trump for everything — and I’m not buying it,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R–S.C. “And he jumped into politics — Gen. Mattis did. And I think he’s missing a lot about what’s going on in America politically.”

Sen. John Kennedy, R–La., said Mattis is welcome to share his opinion, but “I don’t know that him saying this is especially helpfully to the various crisis the we’re going through right now.”

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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