Former commander of US ground forces in Iraq blasts Trump as 'racist'

If there's a precedent for a president inspiring this kind of pushback from the retired brass, I'm not aware of it.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks to troops at a Memorial Day event aboard the USS Wasp, in Yokosuka, Japan on May 28, 2019.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

When it came to Donald Trump's presidency, retired Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez bit his tongue for years. Every time Trump took another step the retired general found offensive -- the attack on Muslim Gold Star parents, Charlottesville, DACA, et al. -- Sanchez restrained himself and made no public comments.

This month's developments, including the Lafayette Square scandal, led him to believe he had to step up and speak up. As David Freed wrote for The Atlantic yesterday:

"I believe the president is a racist," he told me. "The statement has to be made." For a former officer of Sanchez's rank to openly brand the president a bigot -- as he does in a 1,322-word statement on racial injustice -- is unprecedented, military historians say.

"The overtly racist comments and discriminatory actions of our current President," Sanchez wrote, "have convinced me that this administration does not actually view racial diversity as a pillar of American strength, and that it is choosing to actively ignore many elements of our Constitution."

Freed noted that Sanchez, the retired former commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, has become "the first high-ranking military officer to call out the president for racism."

Sanchez is not, however, alone among retired military leaders condemning Trump. Indeed, his public concerns come just two weeks after retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, perhaps best known as the Navy SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, expressing related criticisms.

"This fall, it's time for new leadership in this country," McRaven said, adding, "President Trump has shown he doesn't have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief.... The country needs to move forward without him at the helm."

As regular readers know, in recent weeks, the public has heard related Trump criticisms from former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- who have eight stars on their shoulders between them.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis and retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, also spoke out in the wake of the Lafayette Square debacle. Around the same time, the public heard from retired three-star Admiral Joseph Maguire, who worked for Trump as an acting director of National Intelligence, and who publicly aligned himself with the criticisms of Trump levied by Mattis and Mullen.

They were joined by retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also spoke out against Trump's divisive politics.

For those keeping score, there are now four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs who've publicly slammed Trump of late.

Americans have heard related criticisms in recent weeks from Gen. Tony Thomas, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, retired three-star Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, retired Maj. Gen. Steven Lepper, retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey, and to a certain extent, even retired four-star Gen. John Kelly, who served as Trump's White House chief of staff.

In case that weren't quite enough, the Washington Post recently published an op-ed critical of Trump, co-authored by 78 former Defense Department officials, including four former Pentagon chiefs -- two Democrats and two Republicans. It coincided with a statement, calling on the president not to use the U.S. military for political ends, co-signed by more than 280 retired diplomats, generals, and senior national security officials.

Among the 280 signatories were more than 20 retired generals.

If there's a precedent for a president inspiring this kind of pushback from the retired brass, I'm not aware of it.