President Donald Trump last week called the FBI’s raid on his personal attorney Michael Cohen an “attack on our country.” According to a retired NATO commander, that rhetoric, which the president uttered while surrounded by military leaders who were ostensibly supposed to be discussing whether or not to strike Syria after an alleged chemical attack, offered “a vivid illustration of the challenges” those leaders face while working for Trump.
In an editorial for for TIME, Retired Admiral James Stavridis wrote that Trump’s comment was, at very least, “an odd description in front of individuals who have spent their lives defending the country against actual attacks.”
“As someone who spent over seven years as one of those Combatant Commanders — one of a small group of 4-star officers charged with the responsibility to send young men and women into combat — I often find myself wondering what it must be like to serve as a senior admiral or general in today’s world,” the retired Navy admiral wrote. “Our senior military swear an oath upon every promotion: not to the office of the President, but to the Constitution. How are they executing their oath of office today?”
Though past presidents have presented unique challenges for their military leaders, Stavridis noted that “it is hard to remember a time where the level of unease has been so high.”
“I hear this frequently from many senior admirals and generals still working today, and I feel their sense of extreme discomfort,” he continued. “That is not a good place for the republic.”
Stavridis, who noted that he isn’t registered as either a Democrat or Republican and worked under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, went on to identify three specific difficulties military leaders face under Trump: dealing with the president’s “discipline problem” as evidenced by his payoff to Stormy Daniels and frequent lies; the “erratic nature” of his policies; and finally, resisting being swept up by frenzied media responding to news out of the West Wing.
“I hope our admirals and generals can keep their heads down and ensure the military does not become embroiled in domestic politics, and that [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis can continue to run interference with wisdom and caution between the Pentagon and the White House,” Stavridis concluded. “If he cannot, I fear a creeping politicization of our active-duty military, and therefore a diminishment of our national security. Above all, the White House must take care to avoid pulling the military into the heart of an increasingly political fray.”