In case Donald Trump’s public-relations offensive against several U.S. military leaders was too subtle, the president spent part of his cabinet meeting yesterday taking shots at James Mattis, the Defense secretary who parted ways with the administration earlier this week.
“What’s he done for me?” Trump asked rhetorically. “How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I’m not happy with what he’s done in Afghanistan and I shouldn’t be happy…. I wish him well, I hope he does well. But as you know President Obama fired him and essentially so did I.”
For the record, Mattis became the first Pentagon chief to resign in protest after the president ignored his guidance on the U.S. military commitment in Syria. It’s true that Trump moved up Mattis’ departure date after pundits told the president what the retired four-star general wrote in his brief resignation letter, but it’s a stretch to say Trump “essentially” fired the secretary who quit.
Regardless, soon after disparaging Mattis, and echoing Putin’s talking points about the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan 40 years ago, Trump offered a peek into his perspective as a military strategist.
“Why are we [in Afghanistan] and we are 6.000 miles away? But I don’t mind. We want to help our people. We want to help other nations. You do have terrorists, mostly Taliban but ISIS. And I’ll give you an example. So Taliban is our enemy, ISIS is our enemy, we have an area that I brought up with our generals four, five weeks ago where Taliban is here, ISIS is here, and they are fighting each other. I said. ‘Why don’t you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it?’ I said, ‘Let them fight. They are both our enemies. Let them fight.’ Sir, we–
“They go in and they end up fighting both of them and it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I think I would have been a good general, but who knows.”
This speaks to a possible explanation for why Trump has been so dismissive and disrespectful of several generals and admirals: he’s convinced he could do a better job than them.
In fact, the president has long suggested that he sees himself as something akin to a great American warrior. As a candidate, Trump liked to say he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager.
The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”
It matters, of course, that the claims were ridiculously wrong, but it matters just as much that Trump believed that they were true.
Complicating matters, Trump’s timing could be better. It was, after all, just last week when the New York Times took a closer look at Cadet Bone Spur’s draft-dodging past.
In the fall of 1968, Donald J. Trump received a timely diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that led to his medical exemption from the military during Vietnam.
For 50 years, the details of how the exemption came about, and who made the diagnosis, have remained a mystery, with Mr. Trump himself saying during the presidential campaign that he could not recall who had signed off on the medical documentation.
Now a possible explanation has emerged about the documentation. It involves a foot doctor in Queens who rented his office from Mr. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump, and a suggestion that the diagnosis was granted as a courtesy to the elder Mr. Trump.
Seven days after the article was published, the president declared, “I think I would have been a good general, but who knows.”
I think we all know, actually.