Former defense secretary James Mattis is denouncing President Donald Trump’s heavy-handed use of military force to quell protests near the White House and says his former boss is setting up a “false conflict” between the military and civilian society.
Mattis adds that he has “watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled.”
The criticism is all the more remarkable because Mattis has generally kept a low profile since retiring as defense secretary in December 2018 to protest Trump’s Syria policy.
He has declined to speak out against Trump, saying he owed the nation public silence while his former boss remained in office.
He said he never dreamed troops “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.”
“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 wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Mattis called on Americans to unite without Trump.
“This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children,” he wrote.
Trump responded on Twitter Wednesday evening by calling Mattis “the world’s most overrated General.”
“I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree,” Trump tweeted. “Glad he is gone!”
On Wednesday, Trump’s current Pentagon chief shot down his idea of using active-duty troops to quell protests, but then reversed course and kept the 82nd Airborne Division on standby in the Washington, D.C., region.
It was an extraordinary clash between the U.S. military and its commander in chief. Defense Secretary Mark Esper angered Trump Wednesday when he said he opposed using military troops for law enforcement.
After his subsequent visit to the White House, the Pentagon abruptly overturned an earlier decision to send a couple hundred active-duty soldiers home from the D.C. area.