‘Facing results of three years of immature leadership’: Mattis rips into Trump
The sharply worded and unprecedented rebuke from Trump’s first defense chief will raise pressure on the president.Updated: Jun 04, 2020 07:53 IST
Ex-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis condemned his former boss, President Donald Trump, over his aggressive rhetoric and strategy to quell protests that erupted after the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.
“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, a retired Marine general, wrote in a scathing statement on Wednesday evening.
“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society,” Mattis wrote. “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.”
The sharply worded and unprecedented rebuke from Trump’s first defense chief will raise pressure on the president, who this week threatened to dispatch active duty troops to quash protests and drew widespread condemnation when the square in front of the White House was forcibly cleared before he walked to a historic church to hold a Bible for photographers.
The president responded Wednesday evening saying that he “didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about” Mattis. “His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations,” Trump wrote in one of a pair of tweets.
Mattis stepped down 18 months ago after Trump abruptly announced on Twitter that he wanted to pull US troops from Syria, but he was a hugely influential member of the president’s first national security cabinet.
Trump was so eager to unveil his nomination of Mattis after the 2016 election that he announced his plans at a campaign-style rally where he introduced the former head of US Central Command by a moniker -- “Mad Dog” -- and called him “one of the most effective generals that we’ve had in many, many decades.”
Mattis’s statement, first published in The Atlantic, came on what had already been a rough day for the defense establishment.
Trump’s current secretary, Mark Esper, angered White House officials by publicly distancing himself from Trump’s potential use of the 1807 Insurrection Act to deploy active duty forces to cities confronting protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
At a news conference in the afternoon, the president’s press secretary tiptoed around whether Esper’s job was safe, saying only that he remained in his post.
While Trump has condemned police for their role in Floyd’s death, he has generally avoided directly responding to demands to address racial injustice and a spate of deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. Instead, he demanded that governors “dominate” the protests to snuff them out and compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, musing that perhaps only Lincoln had done as much for black Americans as he had.
It remains to be seen if Mattis’s denunciation will have lasting political power, but it strikes at the heart of what the president has pitched as one of his strengths: His fulsome praise of the military as part of his “America First” approach to the world, even while he frequently accuses the national security establishment of trying to undermine him and his administration.
Despite Trump’s praise of Mattis when he took office, by the end of the defense chief’s tenure, their relationship was shattered. Upon his departure, Mattis he issued a blunt resignation letter that amounted to a public reproach of Trump’s “America First” mantra.
“We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances,” Mattis wrote. “Because you have the right to have a secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Shortly afterward, Trump lashed out at Mattis, saying “What’s he done for me?” Singling out the U.S. quagmire in Afghanistan, Trump added, “How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good.”
In his statement this week, Mattis took aim at Esper, too. Without naming the Pentagon chief, but citing the military jargon the Defense secretary and other top officials have used in describing the geography of the current protests, Mattis said, “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.”’
Esper had used the “battlespace” term during a call with governors on Monday, before US authorities used smoke bombs and pepper-spray-like devices to clear out the peaceful protest outside the Whiet House.
“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution,” Mattis wrote.
Around the time Mattis’s statement was published, Trump was renewing his threat to send in the military to quash protests, during an interview on Newsmax with Sean Spicer, his former press secretary. He called continuing protests in New York a “disaster.”
“And we could help them a lot, they have to ask,”Trump told Spicer. “If they don’t get it straightened out soon, I’ll take care of it.”
White House and Pentagon officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mattis’s statement.