As most are aware, Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — who on June 1, wearing battle fatigues, had been among the group that accompanied President Donald Trump in his walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church after the Square had been cleared of peaceful protestors by the use of chemical agents — concluded a pre-recorded speech that aired on June 11 to National Defense University graduates with the following statement:
“Always maintain a keen sense of situational awareness. As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune. As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it. We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation, and we must hold dear the principles of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the essence of our Republic.”
It is well known that our nation’s most renowned World War II military leaders, Five Star Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, accustomed to reporting a giant, President Franklin Roosevelt, had little regard for the former haberdasher to whom they reported at the end of World War II, President Harry Truman. It is said that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Kennedy Administration had little confidence in President Kennedy, despite Mr. Kennedy’s WWII service record. It can seemingly be presumed that the senior military leaders of their respective times retained doubts about Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, given Messrs. Clinton’s and Obama’s lack of military service. Nonetheless, in each instance the military obeyed the orders of its Commander in Chief.
I would suggest that the spineless acquiescence to President Trump’s unscrupulous conduct by Mr. Trump’s Congressional supporters – those whom the Founding Fathers had expected to place national above political allegiance to provide a ballast against a President’s autocratic tendencies – is what has created the circumstances that made it necessary for Gen. Milley and other active senior military officers, as well as retired senior military men such as former Defense Secretary James Mattis, to so sharply distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s actions. The statements of these honorable Americans are, for those of us deeply concerned about the President’s dictatorial inclinations, for the most part reassuring. At the same time, I believe that these expressions by active senior military officers constitute the first time in our history that the military has given an overt indication that it might independently judge whether it will follow an order of the Commander in Chief. We have yet another perilous precedent arising from Mr. Trump’s blatant disregard of his hallowed trust.