NEW YORK, Jun 4 (APP):Former US Defence Secretary James Mattis has denounced President Donald Trump in a blunt statement that portrayed his former boss as a threat to American democracy.
Trump is needlessly dividing the country and “militarizing” America’s response to the protests, Mattis wrote in a statement published by The Atlantic magazine, a prestigious publication.
Mattis said he was “angry and appalled” by Trump’s handling of current unrest in the United States.
In response, the president described Mattis as an “overrated general” and said he was glad he had left the post. “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”
Mattis resigned in 2018 after Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria.
He has remained mostly silent since then, until his stinging rebuke of the Trump administration was published on Wednesday.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even preetend to try. Instead he tries to divide us,” he wrote.
“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort,” Mattis continued. “We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. 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 remarks by Mattis, an influential retired Marine general, are the strongest to date by a former Pentagon leader over Trump’s response to the killing of George Floyd, an African-American, while in Minneapolis police custody.
They accompany a growing affirmation from within the Pentagon’s leadership of the U.S. military’s core values, including to uphold a constitution that protects freedom of assembly and the principles of equality.
Trump has turned to militaristic rhetoric in response to demonstrations against police brutality following Floyd’s killing by a white police officer, who knelt on the unarmed man’s neck for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis last week.
On Monday Trump threatened to send active duty U.S. troops to stamp out civil unrest gripping several cities, against the wishes of state governors – alarming current and former military officials who fear dissent in the ranks and lasting damage to the U.S. military itself, one of America’s most revered and well-funded institutions.
“Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society,” Mattiis wrote.
A prominent figure in military circles, Mattis’s strong words could inspire others in uniform and veterans to speak out. They are particularly surprising given his extreme reluctance to criticize Trump in scores of interviews and appearances since he left office over policy differences with the U.S. president.
His comments follow denunciations by other retired top brass, including Navy admiral Mike Mullen and retired Army general Martin Dempsey, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The current chairman, Army General Mark Milley, issued a message to the armed forces reminding them of their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, which gives Americans the right to “freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.” Similar messages were delivered by other top military leaders.
As he called for unity, Mattis even drew a comparison to the U.S. war against Nazi Germany, saying U.S. troops were reminded before the Normandy invasion: “The Nazi slogan for destroying us … was “Divide and Conquer.” “Our American answer is “In Union there is Strength.”
Mattis also took a swipe at current U.S. military leadership for participating in a Monday photo-op led by Trump after law enforcement – including National Guard – cleared away peaceful protesters.
He criticized use of the word “battlespace” by Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Milley to describe protest sites in the United States during a call with state governors this week. Esper, Mattis’s successor in the job, has said he regretted using that wording.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace,” Mattis wrote.
Esper said at a Wednesday news conference he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty forces to quell civil unrest for now, in remarks that did not go over well with either the president or his top aides, an administration official said.
The head of the National Guard, whose troops have been reinforcing local law enforcement, issued a strong statement condemning racism and reminding his troops of their oath to the constitution.
“If we are to fulfill our obligation as service members, as Americans, as decent human beings, we have to take our oath seriously,” said Air Force General Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the Guard. “We cannot tolerate racism, discrimination or casual violence. We cannot abide divisiveness and hate.”