Retired military leaders step up with fierce Trump criticisms

Traditionally, most retired generals and admirals prefer to stay on the political sideline. The Trump era, however, is anything but normal.
Image: U.S.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 22, 2011 in Washington
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept, 22, 2011 in Washington.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

There are examples from American history of presidents clashing with former and active-duty military leaders, but Donald Trump has broken new ground in this area.

Early on in his presidency, the Republican seemed a bit too eager, for example, to blame U.S. military leaders for failed missions he approved, and reportedly lashed out at generals privately as "a bunch of dopes and babies." Trump also, of course, went on the offensive against his own former Defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis -- whom he accused of acting like a "Democrat" for questioning the White House's less-defensible national security moves.

It appears the brass is starting to find it necessary to push back.

President Donald Trump is facing an unprecedented revolt from the elite corps of ex-military leaders and presidents over his brazen response to mass protests and inflaming of racial divides.

To be sure, Mattis' striking and historically significant presidential rebuke yesterday was a breakthrough moment, but the retired four-star general is hardly alone.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Tony Thomas, the former head of the Special Operations Command, both publicly criticized White House tactics this week. Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a Bush-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was even more forceful in denouncing Team Trump.

Late yesterday, Foreign Policy magazine published a piece from retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, who argued that Trump is putting "the American experiment" at risk. Reflecting on the threat the president peddled on Monday, Allen added, "There is no precedent in modern U.S. history for a president to wield federal troops in a state or municipality over the objections of the respective governor. Right now, the last thing the country needs -- and, frankly, the U.S. military needs -- is the appearance of U.S. soldiers carrying out the president's intent by descending on American citizens."

For good measure, Russel Honore, a retired lieutenant general, wrote on Twitter this morning that he's now ignoring Trump's missives -- because the president offers "too much bull s**t." (He had some related thoughts on MSNBC's "All In" last night.)

This isn't at all normal. Traditionally, most retired generals and admirals prefer to stay on the political sideline. Under this president, however, normal flew out the window quite a while ago.

Trump, who apparently faked an injury to avoid military service, boasted last year, "I think I would have been a good general." It appears many of those who actually became generals have a very different assessment in mind.