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Image: William McRaven
Former Navy Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, testifies during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 6, 2012.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Admiral from bin Laden raid: US 'needs to move forward without' Trump

No American president has ever inspired the kind of criticisms and pushback from retired military leaders that Trump has.


Retired Adm. Bill 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. McRaven is also recognized as a revered retired admiral who's publicly criticized Donald Trump -- several times, and in unapologetic ways.

At one point two years ago, the president said, "I don't know McRaven." Perhaps not, but McRaven clearly knows Trump.

"This fall, it's time for new leadership in this country -- Republican, Democrat or independent," said William H. McRaven, the retired Navy admiral who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. "President Trump has shown he doesn't have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief."

Admiral McRaven, in an interview on the 76th anniversary of D-Day, 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."

I've seen some suggestions in recent days that as more and more retired generals and admirals step up denounce Trump and his abuses, they're risking the politicization of the military. The importance of a politically neutral military, free of partisan considerations, is so important to the American system, the argument goes, that people like McRaven and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis should remain silent.

That's backwards. As Trump tries to use the military to advance his own political goals, it's incumbent on prominent retired military figures to defend the integrity of the military as an institution against a president who's indifferent to its independence.

And that's precisely why the Sunday shows were filled with respected retired military leaders, including Colin Powell, among several others.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis said the protests aren't "a battle space to be dominated," pointing to comments from Trump and his administration. On "Fox News Sunday," retired Navy Adm. Michael Mullen, also a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said the military "should never be called to fight our own people as enemies of the state," adding, "We have a military to fight our enemies, not our own people."

Also over the weekend, 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 during an ABC News interview.

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 over the last week 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 published an op-ed critical of Trump over the weekend, 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.