President Donald Trump is increasingly at odds with the trio of high-ranking military commanders in his administration, according to Vox.com, the very men whose steely discipline and resolve were purportedly going to help the embattled administration right itself after its shambolic first months.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly — both retired Marine generals — and national security adviser H. R. McMaster — an Army general — have all been hailed by Trump allies as stabilizing and moderating influences on the impulsive, volatile commander-in-chief.
However, a rift is growing between the president and his trio of military men over Trump’s unwillingness to commit more troops to Afghanistan and his effort to purge the military of transgender personnel.
Commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say that if the war there is to be fought to any sort of workable conclusion, then more troops are needed than the 4,000 Trump promised in a speech last week.
Furthermore, the Pentagon has rejected Trump’s plan for a ban on transgender military personnel in spite of the president’s insistence. On Tuesday, Mattis blocked the order from taking effect and issued a statement saying that the military is continuing to study the issue.
Trump’s relationship with the military has been further complicated by his gross mishandling of the administration’s response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, VA.
“After the political violence in Charlottesville, Trump steadfastly refused to condemn the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who instigated the bloodshed. By contrast, each of the four-star officers leading a military service (including the Coast Guard and National Guard Bureau) tweeted a statement condemning the violence,” said Vox’s Philip Carter.
Carter said the division between Trump and the military is unlikely to mend itself any time soon because Trump’s nativist, isolationist, xenophobic base disagrees with the foreign policy establishment “on almost everything under the sun.”
Furthermore, Carter said, Trump did not volunteer to serve in Vietnam, the time when most of the senior commanders in today’s military first entered the service. “And not only did Trump avoid service by gaming the draft lottery, he actively evaded military service at the height of the Vietnam War in ways that make President Clinton’s letter to an ROTC commander or President Bush’s service in the National Guard look quaint by comparison.”
Trump has also gone out of his way to denigrate and disrespect the military service of others, including his attacks on Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and a Muslim Gold Star Family who lost their son in Iraq.
Most importantly, however, Trump fails to understand that Kelly, McMaster and Mattis have sworn their loyalty to the nation and to the U.S. Constitution, when what Trump clearly prizes most in his subordinates is their loyalty to him.
Carter said, “Senior military officers, like all military personnel (and civil servants, too), swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Beyond this oath, military officers live by a strict code of military justice and ethics regulationswhich ensures, among other things, that they serve the nation and no one else. Federal ethics statutes make it a felony for military personnel (and other government personnel too) to act upon conflicts of interest.”
Trump may have taken the same oath, but “his first eight months on the job make it clear that he’s in the presidency for himself.”
The president has filled his administration with career military officers, but fails to grasp that they have an entirely different worldview and mission than he does.
“Many critics have long worried Trump would listen to the generals too much. It turns out that he may not be listening to them enough,” Carter concluded.