In the weeks leading up to Donald Trump’s inauguration, the incoming president went to unusual lengths to surround himself with retired military leaders – a contingent the Republican liked to call “my generals.” The tactic wasn’t subtle: Trump sought not only to position himself as a staunch ally of the armed forces, but also to lean on their stature and credibility.
If generals and admirals are willing to work alongside Donald Trump, Americans were supposed to think, then the nation’s first amateur president must not be that bad.
The trouble, of course, came to the fore when some retired military leaders started to realize what kind of leader this president is, and they began sharing their concerns – with varying degrees of subtlety – with the public, leading Trump to do what his instincts always tell him to do.
On New Year’s Eve, for example, the president lashed out at “failed generals” who expressed disagreement with his meandering policy toward Syria.
“ ‘General’ McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!”
Note, McChrystal is a highly decorated four-star general and combat veteran who devoted nearly all of his adult life to serving his country. Trump nevertheless questioned McChrystal’s service – note his use of scare quotes around “general” – and publicly mocked him.
It comes on the heels of Trump going on the offensive against his own former Defense secretary, James Mattis, including a tweet in which Trump asserted that the retired four-star general didn’t care about foreign allies taking advantage of the United States.
That, of course, came just a month after Trump lashed out at retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, and criticized the speed with which the military killed Osama bin Laden.
In fact, the only retired military leader this president seems willing to praise is his former White House national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn – and he’s a convicted felon currently awaiting sentencing.
I suppose we should’ve seen some of this coming. As regular readers may recall, Candidate Trump saw no need for deference toward military leaders. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” he insisted during the 2016 campaign. “Believe me.”
Several months later, Trump added that U.S. military leaders “don’t know much because they’re not winning,” In September 2016, the Republican said American generals “have been reduced to rubble,” adding, “They have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country.”
During the Democratic National Convention, Trump was especially disrespectful towards retired four-star General John Allen.
Stanley McChrystal can at least take some comfort in the fact that he’s in good company.