U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis gestures during a press briefing on the campaign to defeat ISIS at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas.

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a criticism of the president for dividing the nation and using the military against its own citizens. The sharp statement is the first time Mattis has criticized President Donald Trump since resigning from his role in 2018. Mattis spoke out against Trump’s reactions to widespread protests of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a police officer early last week. 

Mattis wrote, “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’ Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect.” 

In a recorded conference call with governors, Trump said “most of you are weak” and “fools” and added, “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time, they’re gonna run over you, you’re gonna look like a bunch of jerks.” According to Attorney General William Barr, Trump was speaking about the threat of “anarchic and…far-left extremist groups” who were taking advantage of protests and police forces to promote further violence. In a speech on Monday, Trump said he would deploy the U.S. military to cities facing protests to “quickly solve the problem for them.” The same day, he waved a Bible in front of St. John’s Church after being accused of ordering the use of tear gas to clear marchers from his path. Since Mattis’s statements, at least three other four-star generals have published statements condemning Trump’s use of the military to quell national protests.

Mike Mullen, the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke out in an op-ed published in The Atlantic on Tuesday to condone the use of the military for political reasons and support a larger conversation around race in America. John Allen, a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and former commander of the NATO response to ISIS under President Barack Obama, also spoke out in an op-ed claiming Trump’s moves “signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.” Retired General Martin Dempsey, who followed Mullen as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published a statement on Twitter.

Some Republican senators, including Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mitt Romney (R-UT), have spoken in support of Mattis, while Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), defended Trump for “doing the best he can under very difficult circumstances.” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) further defended Trump, saying, “from the time President Trump wakes up and goes to bed, there’s an effort to destroy his presidency.” He went on to assign blame to state government officials for not using the National Guard and pointed out that George H.W. Bush invoked the Insurrection Act during the deadly Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution – The Atlantic – 6/3/2020
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis writes. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.” He goes on, “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

Rare rebuke for Trump from US evangelical Christian leader – Al Jazeera – 6/4/2020
The rebuke was surprising because Robertson, who is one the founding leaders of the white, evangelical Christian movement in the US, has been a consistent supporter of Trump. His television show, begun in 1966, is seen by an estimated one million Americans every day.One in four American adults belong to an evangelical Christian denomination and they voted 81 percent for Trump in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan group.

Lindsey Graham to James Mattis: ‘You’re missing something here, my friend’ – The Washington Times – 6/4/2020
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham on Thursday responded to former Defense Secretary James Mattis‘ scathing rebuke of President Trump by suggesting that Mr. Mattis needs some perspective on what Mr. Graham described as an ongoing campaign to destroy Mr. Trump.

Mattis drives wedge between Trump and Republicans – Politico – 6/4/2020
Several GOP senators took pains not to criticize either man, while some simply said they hadn’t read Mattis’ remarks and declined to address them. It was an uncomfortable question for Republicans, who have uniformly praised Mattis over the years and often took his side when he clashed with Trump over matters of foreign policy and national security.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Jacob Rubashkin on  Twitter, 6/4/2020: The general in this story, John Allen, notably gave a keynote speech at the DNC endorsing Clinton over Trump, so he’s been on this one for a long time. What makes Mattis different is how assiduously apolitical he’d been up till now.

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, 6/4/2020: Probably the only thing Barack Obama & I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General. I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was “Chaos”, which I didn’t like, & changed to “Mad Dog”…

Dan Baer on Twitter, 6/4/2020: I’ve seen some folks calling for John Kelly to follow Mattis, Allen, Mullen and others in speaking out. Alt view: I don’t give a damn if John Kelly speaks out unless it is to apologize profusely for his shameful role in implementing some of the most vile policies of this POTUS.

David French on Twitter, 6/4/2020: This, from James Mattis, is timely, powerful, and true. And remember, his appointment as SECDEF was one of the key arguments Trump supporters made for the value of Trump’s victory. Mattis saw Trump up close. Here is his verdict

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