The generals and Trump

A piece notes that generals are discussing the 2016 election, “One of Washington’s best-known public figures is warning that politicians are spreading “toxic” anti-Muslim rhetoric that amounts to “blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion” — a seemingly clear, if unspoken, jab at Republican front-runner Donald Trump and his calls for banning Muslims from entering the United States and registering those already here. The critique echoes similar attacks from Trump’s chief rival, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and other leading Democrats. But it didn’t come from Clinton or any of her allies. It instead came in a Washington Post op-ed by retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, arguably the most famous military figure of his generation. Petraeus didn’t use Trump’s name in his piece, but no politician has used more inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims than the GOP front-runner. The comments highlight a significant, but little-discussed, new element of the 2016 presidential race: Prominent retired members of the military are stepping into the political arena — or being pulled into it — in ways not seen in decades”.

It goes on to note that “Trump is the implicit target of many of the retired generals and admirals, whose public criticism echoes the private concerns of many still in uniform horrified by the businessman’s talk of torturing terror suspects, killing the families of militants, abandoning NATO, and encouraging allies to develop their own nuclear weapons. Beyond the rhetoric, at least two retired senior officers, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, have held private meetings with political operatives looking to draft them into the 2016 race as candidates. Mullen was the top vice presidential choice of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was briefly considering an independent campaign, and held multiple face-to-face meetings with the billionaire businessman. A former adviser to Mullen said the retired admiral seriously considered the idea and was formally vetted by Bloomberg aides but never agreed to join a Bloomberg-led ticket. In the end, Bloomberg elected not to run”.

The article mentions that “The other officer who has considered entering the race for the White House is Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who oversaw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until leaving the military in 2013. Earlier this year, Mattis held secret talks in a Washington hotel with several prominent members of the GOP establishment about mounting a third-party campaign against Trump, though he ultimately opted against throwing his hat into the ring. More recently, Mattis raised eyebrows by publicly slamming President Barack Obama, the former general’s commander in chief during his final years in uniform. During a speech in Washington last month, Mattis blasted Obama for giving an interview that denigrated key U.S. allies. “For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts,” Mattis said during the April 22 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies”.

The article continues “Whatever the motivation, Richard Kohn, a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has written extensively about civil-military relations, warned that the essay could undermine public trust in the military. Kohn derided the Petraeus op-ed as “really inappropriate” and “unhelpful.” “What you are talking about here is a military intervention in politics,” Kohn said. “He’s using his career, his prominence, and his accomplishments to try to affect the course of the election.” Petraeus told Foreign Policy that he wrote the op-ed because he “thought the sentiments in the piece needed to be voiced” and declined to comment on whether it was motivated specifically by Trump’s anti-Muslim language. “No one asked me to do the piece,” he said. “I had just been increasingly concerned by the rhetoric used by political candidates in the U.S. and overseas. I have been reassured a bit by the recent softening and clarification of some of that rhetoric.” Most of the political rhetoric remains as white-hot as ever, however, and senior officers are routinely feeling compelled to publicly rebut incendiary comments from Trump and other GOP presidential candidates”.

It adds later that “Although many senior officers have been shocked and dismayed by Trump’s statements, it’s unclear how rank-and-file enlisted troops — and veterans no longer on active duty — view the candidate. One survey this month by theMilitary Times, which did not claim to be scientific and relied on voluntary responses from the paper’s subscribers, suggested 54 percent of active duty service members would back Trump over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. For his part, Trump has repeatedly mocked the military, particularly in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, for failing to do what it takes to win. In March, he raised eyebrows — and drew the public criticism of many retired officers — when he said American soldiers are “afraid to fight” because of the Geneva Conventions. After saying he gets his military advice “from the shows,” the presumptive GOP nominee nowsays his administration would put top officers above foreign policy wonks when it comes to national security debates. Trump also says he’d consider military generals for cabinet and senior staff posts”.

The piece ends “Still, he wouldn’t empower the generals too much. Earlier this month, Trump said that he’d bar them from doing television appearances or speaking with the “dishonest press” because they can’t be trusted to avoid spilling national security secrets or sharing plans with the enemy. “A general should not be on television. … I will prohibit them,” Trump saidin early May in Indiana. “You think Gen. George Patton or Gen. Douglas MacArthur, do you think they’d be on television saying about how weak we are?” he continued. “They wouldn’t be on television because they’d be knocking the hell out of the enemy and they wouldn’t have time.” Trump’s got that one wrong. Both Patton and MacArthur gave frequent interviews and speeches and enjoyed warm relationships with the reporters who wrote about them. They were also each known for saying impolitic things in public. In 1945, Patton stunned many in Washington byquestioning the need for what he derided as “this de-Nazification thing” in post-World War II Germany. The gaffe wasn’t carried live on TV, but it effectively ended Patton’s military career”.

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