Georges Clemenceau said that war is too important to be left to the generals.
But civil war? Or even civil unrest?
Not if General James Mattis has his way.
When Mattis resigned as Donald Trump’s hand-picked Secretary of Defense in 2017, he said nothing (and I mean nothing) beyond “I had no choice but to leave.” Perhaps he left because the President claimed, in reference to NATO, “I think I know more than he does.” Mattis was a Marine General and former supreme allied commander in charge of transforming NATO.
In the two years since then, never was heard a discouraging word from the General, until he ripped into Trump on Tuesday:
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper also broke with his boss when he called a press conference to say: “Active duty forces . . . should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Then on Thursday, former Marine General John Allen, who led the global fight against ISIS and now heads the Brookings Institute, wrote in Foreign Affairs that “We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of American democracy, but there is still a way to stop the descent.”
Then Friday, John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, and another former Marine General, said he agreed with Mattis: “…the partisanship has gotten out of hand, the tribal thing has gotten out of hand…”
By the weekend, 89 former defence officials had published an opinion piece in the Washington Post decrying Trump’s muddying of the military and executive branch. Or rather, in the case of his walk from The White House to St. John’s Episcopal, of church and state and military.
In a week of persistent tragedy, this is heartening news. America may be breaking, but it isn’t yet broken if the people who can really bring blood to the streets fight to stay away from them.
One of the comforting things about Donald Trump is that he has no limits. So thinking the unthinkable about what he’ll do next is easier every day.
I think he will force a confrontation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff by ordering them to do something they believe violates the Constitution. Like shooting peaceful protesters, or taking over a city’s police force.
The Generals swore an oath to uphold the US Constitution. Trump thinks they swore an oath to uphold him, their Commander-in-Chief.
So when that battle of wills is joined……well, the motto of the US Marines is “Semper Fi” – Always loyal. Their President’s motto could be “Numquam Fi” – Never loyal.
But what is it they say about the Marines?
“No better friend. No worse foe.”