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Posted on Oct 12, 2020 Print this Article

Why Is James Mattis Leading Military Officers Opposing Trump?

In the 2020 Presidential Election, liberal media and well-funded activist groups are working hard to drive a wedge between President Donald J. Trump and the troops he leads. 

Much to the dismay of erstwhile admirers, activists are using the name and published statements of former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine General, to fuel a concerted national campaign to replace President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence with former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Previously, General Mattis had refrained from comment on the presidential race, and he has not endorsed Joe Biden for President.  In June, however, Mattis published an op-ed in the liberal magazine The Atlantic, denouncing President Trump for what he called a deliberate effort to divide the American people. 

Mattis was particularly incensed about President Trump’s walk from the White House across Lafayette Park to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church during a time of unrest on June 1.  At the time, well-organized rioters were destroying and looting property in Minneapolis and several other cities nationwide, taking advantage of citizens who were exercising their First Amendment right to protest the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police.  

In the nation’s capital, hooligans defaced the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, without apparent interference.  The pale yellow Church of Presidents was defaced with spray paint and torched with a basement fire.  A few weeks later, anarchists splashed graffiti on the base of the equestrian statue of former President Andrew Jackson standing in Lafayette Park, throwing ropes over the beautiful bronze statue and threatening to tear it down. 

Writing in self-described anger, General Mattis criticized what he perceived as misuse of the military in quelling the violence.  His article misconstrued what locally controlled authorities did to enforce a curfew in Washington, D.C., and took statements made by President Trump and others, such as Defense Secretary Esper and Army General Mark Milley, out of context. 

As James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation pointed out in an article taking issue with Secretary Mattis and other retired military critics, there is zero evidence that President Trump caused a constitutional crisis or exceeded his authority in dealing with riots and looting that occurred in Washington, D.C. and in cities like St. Louis, Chicago, and Portland.

Instead of drawing upon his extensive knowledge of history to make constructive suggestions on how to deal with people engaging in violence, General Mattis wrote, “We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.”  Mattis even stooped to place President Trump on the same side as German Nazis who relied on “divide and conquer” tactics before the Normandy Invasion.

Given Mattis’ high profile as President Trump’s former Secretary of Defense, he should have known that political adversaries would weaponize his Atlantic op-ed to defeat Trump.  Working in tandem with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, an outfit called the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports far-left candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), excerpted passages from Mattis’ op-ed in a full-page Sunday newspaper political advertisement. 

The “Statement by James Mattis” ads, estimated to cost $20,000 each, ran in at least two political swing states: the Kenosha (WI) News (July 26) and the Detroit (MI) Free Press (August 2).  Both were headlined “Democracy is at Stake,” and “Veterans Know Donald Trump Violated the Constitution.” 

The ads also promoted a VetsForDemocracy.com website, which solicits more potential contributors to continue the anti-Trump campaign: “Would you chip in $3.00 to run full-page newspaper ads in swing states – with the full Mattis letter and names of vets across the nation?”

Personal Angst or Disagreements over Policy?

General Mattis deserves respect for his distinguished military career, and some credit for supporting President Trump’s call for a full review and revision of the Obama/Biden policies regarding transgenders in the military.  As for the President’s appearance in front of St. John’s Church, it might have been better if Trump had simply expressed quiet resolve to defend the church and all other historic structures against attacks from those who would burn and tear them down. 

The President actually did that by invoking a law that imposes a $10,000 legal penalty for defacing veterans memorials.  Unrest continued during the Republican National Convention, however, when several guests were accosted and intimidated after leaving White House grounds.  Some critics have heightened tensions with ridiculous charges that military leaders might have to remove President Trump from the White House if he loses the next election. 

Many of the retired flag and general officers and national security officials who have endorsed Biden, such as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, USN (Ret.), former SOCOM Commander Adm. William McRaven, USN (Ret.), and former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, were responsible for instigating or implementing the Obama/Biden administration’s liberal military/social agenda.  Now they and others are defending its problematic results.

The Military Vote: Not Monolithic

Secretary Mattis left the Trump Administration after a disagreement with the Commander-in-Chief’s decision to reduce the presence of American troops in Syria and his relations with allies in Europe.  Mattis is entitled to his opinion, but retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis has noted that Trump is “an unorthodox transactional leader” who “makes judgments based solely on American interests.”

In a public joint letter, 235 retired military leaders declared, “President Trump’s resolute stands have deterred our enemies from aggression against us and our allies.  The proposed defense cuts by the Democrats will, in our professional judgment, create a potentially perilous situation for the United States during a time of great external and internal threats to our Nation.  For these reasons, we support Donald Trump’s re-election.” 

In contrast, some retired military leaders endorsed Joe Biden after The Atlantic’s editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg published a thinly sourced article accusing President Trump of denigrating the troops during a 2018 visit to France

The story’s allegations, based on anonymous sources and strongly denied by administration officials who were present with Trump in France, did not change the minds of many troops and veterans, including retired Army Green Beret Joe Kent.  If any active duty or retired military person has good reason to oppose Trump’s policies in Syria, Joe Kent would be that person.

Kent’s remarkable wife, Navy Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent, was a Cryptologic Technician, a linguist, and the mother of two toddler boys.  In January 2019, Shannon was killed by a suicide bomber, together with three others, during a mission to fight ISIS in Syria.  In an op-ed responding to critics who accuse President Trump of not caring about the troops, Shannon Kent’s grieving husband wrote,

“America — and the men and women in uniform — need a president who will ask the hard questions about why we are fighting and dying and, yes, whether it was or will be worth it, and then will do his utmost to protect America, our troops, its military and its standing as the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen.”

It is not clear why James Mattis decided to abandon his previous reticence.  President Trump ruffled the Defense Secretary’s feathers on more than one occasion – particularly at an early Pentagon briefing in which Secretary Mattis did not seem to read the room very well. 

But it is fair to ask whether Mattis’ expression of personal angst against the President has been helpful to members of the National Guard who, in some states, have been asked by governors to assist in restoring order.  The retired military campaign to defeat Trump is setting a bad example for active duty personnel who are duty-bound to follow legal orders. 

Neither Mattis nor any of the retired officials signing anti-Trump op-eds or group letters will have to deal with the harmful consequences of reinstating controversial policies that have weakened morale, discipline, and overall readiness.  Perhaps they should concern themselves with America’s ability to fight and win real wars, not political wars to discredit and evict the Commander-in-Chief. 

Posted on Oct 12, 2020 Print this Article