Top military official regrets his role in Lafayette Square debacle

"My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics," Gen. Mark Milley said.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump departs the White House to visit outside St. John's Church, on June 1, 2020, in Washington.Patrick Semansky / AP file

Last week, federal security forces removed peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square, a park across the street from the White House. Once the area was cleared by force, Donald Trump walked through the park, posed in front of a nearby church, briefly waved a Bible, and immediately created a scandalous photo-op that ricocheted around the world.

It wasn't long before key officials involved in the debacle took steps to distance themselves from the scandal. Attorney General Bill Barr, for example, contradicted the White House and denied responsibility for the offensive against peaceful protestors. Defense Secretary Mark Esper claimed he didn't fully understand what was going on around him. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly started blaming the whole mess on Ivanka Trump behind the scenes.

And then there's Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was seen in some photographs walking across Lafayette Square as part of Trump's entourage while wearing his combat fatigues. Within a few days, Pentagon sources were telling reporters the general was "horrified" by the entire scene.

Today, Milley spoke for himself, acknowledging, "I should not have been there."

"My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics," Milley said. "As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it."

The general made the comments in a pre-recorded video commencement address to the National Defense University.

Milley added in his remarks, "We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic. It takes time and work and effort, but it may be the most important thing each and every of us does every single day."

It's hard not to notice that the president who put Milley in his post feels very differently about these bedrock American principles. Indeed, one wonders how Trump is likely to respond to the general's regrets.

And speaking of the president, now 11 days removed from the Lafayette Square scandal, Trump seemed eager to fan the flames anew this morning, publishing a tweet that read, "Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. 'A walk in the park', one said. The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!"

First, for reasons that should be obvious, the U.S. Secret Service tends to avoid using the "S.S." initials. It's curious that Trump doesn't know that.

Second, of course security forces found it "easy" to clear Lafayette Square: they used tear gas and riot gear against unarmed, peaceful civilians.

And third, it's extraordinary that as the uproar over the Lafayette Square scandal diminishes, Trump decided to bring the controversy back to the fore -- even as top members of his team take steps in the opposite direction.