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Admiral from bin Laden raid warns of Trump's 'autocratic' ways

Retired Adm. William McRaven, who led the US Special Operations Command, has quietly become one of the nation's most forceful Trump detractors.
Navy Admiral Bill McRaven testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in 2012.
Navy Admiral Bill McRaven testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in 2012.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc. file

To a degree without modern precedent, an astonishing number of retired American military leaders have stepped up in recent months to denounce and rebuke Donald Trump. The list includes four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, each of whom have publicly slammed the incumbent president ahead of his re-election bid.

But one retired U.S. military leader in particular has gone further than most in warning the public about the man in the Oval Office.

Retired Adm. William McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, is perhaps best known to Americans as the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. This week, he wrote a Washington Post op-ed making the case that Donald Trump is putting "our institutions and our democracy" at risk.

Today, as we struggle with social upheaval, soaring debt, record unemployment, a runaway pandemic, and rising threats from China and Russia, President Trump is actively working to undermine every major institution in this country. He has planted the seeds of doubt in the minds of many Americans that our institutions aren't functioning properly. And, if the president doesn't trust the intelligence community, law enforcement, the press, the military, the Supreme Court, the medical professionals, election officials and the postal workers, then why should we? And if Americans stop believing in the system of institutions, then what is left but chaos and who can bring order out of chaos: only Trump. It is the theme of every autocrat who ever seized power or tried to hold onto it.

This is, to be sure, a striking denunciation, especially from a decorated combat veteran and retired four-star admiral.

But just as notable is the frequency with which McRaven has stepped up to voice criticisms like these.

Just weeks into the Trump era, the retired admiral tipped his toes in these waters, describing Trump's condemnations of his own country's free press possibly "the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime."

About a year later, after the president said he'd revoke the security clearances of some of his critics, McRaven wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post urging Trump to revoke his security clearance, too, explaining that he would consider it "an honor" to stand alongside those "who have spoken up against your presidency."

Last fall, McRaven wrote another piece, this time for the New York Times, reflecting on the president's willingness to break faith with American allies and American principles. He added that "the fate of our Republic" may depend upon replacing Trump as quickly as possible.

In February 2020, McRaven wrote another Washington Post op-ed, which concluded, "As Americans, we should be frightened -- deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can't speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security -- then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil."

Four months later, the retired Navy admiral explained, "President Trump has shown he doesn't have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief." On the anniversary of D-Day, McRaven contrasted Trump's style with the kind of qualities from earlier wartime leaders. "As we have struggled with the COVID pandemic and horrible acts of racism and injustice, this president has shown none of those qualities," the admiral said. "The country needs to move forward without him at the helm."

This week, McRaven rang the alarm anew, positioning himself as one of the nation's most unexpected, most forceful, and most credible Trump detractors.

When this line of criticism started in earnest, Trump responded, "I don't know McRaven." Evidently, McRaven knows him all too well.