Taking Orders from a Fool
By Stephen Tuttle | Nov. 9, 2019
What happened to those Trump generals? And where were their defenders?
Our presidents seem to have an affinity for the military. Uniformed officers, with chests bristling with ribbons, make for a most excellent photo-op. It's a physical manifestation of the real power we vest in the president.
Which is not to suggest that affinity isn't real despite all the obvious public relations stunts; more than half of our presidents, 26 of 45, have served in the military.
In the last 60 years, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Bush the Lesser all served in some capacity. Only Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump did not.
President Trump, like those before him, revels in our military accomplishments. So much so that he revealed much in his recent announcement of the killing of the ISIL leader that the military would have preferred be kept secret. And like those before him, he took credit for the action, although his, “I got him,” statement was a bit much.
Trump attached himself to the military from the beginning of his administration. Remember his proud declarations about “my generals” and their lists of accomplishments? There was John Kelly, James Mattis, Michael Flynn, and H.R. McMaster, former generals all with significant experience and credentials. None of them lasted, and only one has escaped the Trump Insult Machine.
General John Kelly — retired with nearly two dozen various medals, commendations, and citations — was Trump's first secretary of Homeland Security and then his chief staff. He lasted 18 months in the second job, better than most. His attempts to bring order and structure to the White House were unsuccessful, and his departure was met with typical denigration from the administration. Their latest Trumpian insult came from Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, who said Kelly was “ ... totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president.”
General James Mattis retired with nearly 30 medals, including the Bronze Star with a V for valor. The author of several books on military engagement and strategy, Mattis was Trump's first secretary of defense. He lasted nearly two years, but his job security became tenuous early on when Trump suggested torture might be a good idea, and Mattis flatly declared our military would not do it since, you know, it's against the law.
He ultimately broke away from Trump over various policies and decisions in the Middle East. Mattis was particularly exercised over the decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in Syria. The president has now publicly referred to Mattis as “the world's most overrated general.”
General H.R. McMaster retired with nearly as many medals as Kelly and Mattis combined, including a Silver Star and Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters. He was the president's national security advisor until he said there was “incontrovertible evidence” that the Russians, in an effort to aide Trump, had interfered in the 2016 elections. The president clarified by saying McMaster had forgotten to mention the interference had no bearing on the outcome. White House staffers have subsequently described McMaster as “gruff,” “condescending,” “aggressive,” and, of course, “overrated.”
General Michael Flynn also retired with a chest full of medals, including a Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters. He was Trump's very first national security advisor and held the job for all of 23 days. It turned out he was wasn't quite truthful to the White House about his contacts with Russians. To compound the problem, he wasn't truthful when interviewed by the FBI, either, and has pleaded guilty to lying to them. He still awaits sentencing.
It is perhaps telling that Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster all disagreed with the president about something and stood their ground. They held fast to code of country, duty, and honor above all else. They were all removed and then denigrated upon their departure. Flynn, of whom the president still speaks at least somewhat fondly, lost track of that code and lied either to protect himself or the president, or both.
The mystery here is the silence of most of the 66 Republicans in Congress who have served in the military. (There are also 30 Democrat vets, but they complain loudly any time Trump does anything.)
Those Republican vets, with few exceptions, did not speak up when the president was insulting Gold Star parents or John McCain's war record, or three highly decorated generals. Maybe they fear the mighty Trump Tweet Machine, or maybe they've forgotten where their loyalties should lie.
We've a president embracing the military with great bravado, then gleefully insulting his own appointed generals when they attempt to put the country ahead of him. His GOP sycophants, even most of the veterans, don't seem to mind a bit, and don't utter a peep.
Or maybe the lesson is simpler: Generals just aren't used to taking orders from a fool.