Feb 18, 2020

Trump faces revolt of the generals, CNN.com

Trump faces revolt of the generals Peter Bergen By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. His new book is "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos." The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN. (CNN)Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly said at an event at Drew University on Wednesday that Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman did the right thing when he raised concerns about President Donald Trump's call to the Ukrainian president in late July, according to a report in The Atlantic. Peter Bergen Peter Bergen Kelly said that when Vindman heard Trump telling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he wanted investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, he was guided by what the US military teaches -- that you report to your superiors actions which you believe to be wrong. The Atlantic reported that Kelly explained, "We teach them, 'Don't follow an illegal order. And if you're ever given one, you'll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss.'" We have come to an extraordinary moment in the United States when some of the most senior retired military leaders in the country are publicly taking President Trump to task. Traditionally, such officers have not taken political positions, even in retirement. And now Kelly, who was Trump's chief of staff in the White House -- historically the cabinet official who spends the most time with the president -- is one of those public critics. While Kelly's comments are the most wide-ranging public critique of the President and his policies by any of the generals who served in cabinet posts in the Trump administration, others have also spoken out. A leading retired four-star officer, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told ABC News in December 2018 that he found Trump to be both immoral and dishonest. Five months earlier, Adm. William McRaven, the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, was even more blunt in the Washington Post, saying, "Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation." In his comments this week, Kelly also poured cold water on one of Trump's pet foreign policy projects, some kind of nuclear deal with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, saying that he "never did think (Kim) would do anything other than play us for a while." And Kelly pushed back on Trump's repeated claims that the media is "the enemy of the people," saying, "We need a free media." Kelly is one of several generals who have served in high-profile posts in the Trump administration; among the others were former Secretary of Defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, and former national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster. Mattis and Kelly have a deep and longstanding relationship. During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Mattis and Kelly led the 1st Marine Division into Baghdad. When they were working for President Trump they also worked together closely. Now that Kelly has laid down a marker with his criticisms of Trump, might Mattis? I doubt it. Mattis ducked every opportunity to do so on his book tour in September to promote his memoir, "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead." Mattis noted in his book, "I'm old fashioned: I don't write about sitting presidents." As I reported in "Trump and His Generals," at a party for Mattis in Washington, DC, to celebrate the publication of his memoir, Mary Louise Kelly, the co-anchor of NPR's "All Things Considered," asked Mattis what it would take for him to criticize President Trump publicly. Could there ever come a time when he felt he had to speak out if he felt that the country was truly imperiled? Mattis became animated saying he would never do that, observing that, "Mike Flynn and John Allen—I could not disagree more strongly with what they did." Retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn had campaigned for Trump and had led chants of "Lock her up!" at the 2016 Republican convention, while Allen, a retired four-star Marine general like Mattis, had spoken at the Democratic convention the same year and had made his own spirited speech in favor of Hillary Clinton. McMaster is working on his own book "Battlegrounds," which is slated for publication this year, according to HarperCollins Publishers. On his book tour, McMaster will surely face some of the same questions that Mattis chose not to answer about Trump.