ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 28: U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks to members of the press before a press briefing at the Pentagon August 28, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. Mattis held the briefing with Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Former Defense Secretary Mattis: Trump tries to divide us
04:51 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Military leaders are usually cautious about airing their political opinions, but over the week, several former top military officials, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, have raised the alarm and spoken out, in strong terms, against President Donald Trump.

A number of retired four-star generals and admirals denounced Trump’s threat to use the US active military to quell nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

The military leaders criticized the use of law enforcement and National Guard troops to aggressively disperse peaceful protesters outside the White House, so that Trump could walk over to the St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street and pose with a Bible. And some condemned the appearance of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanying Trump for the photo-op. Many of these military leaders have been critical of the President in the past.

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis

Former Secretary of Defense under Trump

Statement released June 3

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.”

Marine Corps. Gen. John Kelly

Former Chief of Staff to Trump, Former commander of US Southern Command under Obama

Interview on June 5

“I would’ve argued against it, recommended against it,” Kelly said of Trump’s photo-op. “I would argue that the end result of that was predictable.”

“I think we need to look harder at who we elect. I think we should look at people that are running for office and put them through the filter: What is their character like? What are their ethics?”

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen

Former commander of US forces in Afghanistan under Obama

Commentary published June 3 by Foreign Policy

“Donald Trump isn’t religious, has no need of religion, and doesn’t care about the devout, except insofar as they serve his political needs…To even the casual observer, Monday was awful for the United States and its democracy. The president’s speech was calculated to project his abject and arbitrary power, but he failed to project any of the higher emotions or leadership desperately needed in every quarter of this nation during this dire moment.”

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Obama

Op-ed for The Atlantic published June 2

“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel—including members of the National Guard—forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church. I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent. Whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces. There was little good in the stunt.”

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush

Interview with CNN on June 4

“The first thing was just absolute sadness that people aren’t allowed to protest and that, as I understand it, that was a peaceful protest that was disturbed by force, and that’s not right. That should not happen in America. And so I was sad. I mean, we should all shed tears over that, that particular act. …I’m glad I don’t have to advise this President. I’m sure the senior military leadership is finding it really difficult these days to provide good, sound military advice.”

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Obama

Interview with NPR on June 4

“The idea that the President would take charge of the situation using the military was troubling to me.”

William Perry

Former Defense Secretary served under Clinton

Twitter, June 4

“I am outraged at the deplorable behavior of our President and Defense Secretary Esper, threatening to use American military forces to suppress peaceful demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights. This is a deeply shameful moment for our nation.”

Navy Adm. William McRaven

Former commander of US Special Operations Command under Obama

Interview with MSNBC on June 5

“You’re not going to use, whether it’s the military, or the National Guard, or law enforcement, to clear peaceful American citizens for the President of the United States to do a photo op. There is nothing morally right about that.”

Navy Adm. James Stavridis

Former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO

Commentary published by Time on June 3

“Our active duty military must remain above the fray of domestic politics, and the best way to do that is to keep that force focused on its rightful mission outside the United States. Our senior active duty military leaders must make that case forcefully and directly to national leadership, speaking truth to power in uncomfortable ways. They must do this at the risk of their career. I hope they will do so, and not allow the military to be dragged into the maelstrom that is ahead of us, and which will likely only accelerate between now and November. If they do not stand and deliver on this vital core value, I fear for the soul of our military and all of the attendant consequences.”

Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas

Former commander of US Special Operations Command under Obama and Trump

Twitter, June 1

On Esper’s use of the term “battlespace” when discussing quelling violence on the streets amid civil unrest: “The ‘battle space’ of America??? Not what America needs to hear…ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure…ie a Civil War…”

Air Force Gen. Mike Hayden

Former director of the CIA and NSA under Bush and Obama

Twitter, June 2

On Milley joining Trump for his walk in front of the White House after protesters were cleared: “I was appalled to see him in his battle dress. Milley (he’s a general?!?) should not have walked over to the church with Trump.”

Ash Carter

Former Defense Secretary under Obama

Statement on June 5

“The Department of Defense exists to safeguard our citizens, not dominate them. I was dismayed to see DoD drawn inappropriately this week into the President’s response to protests. There is here no need, no warrant, and no excuse to bring active-duty military force into the restoration of order. I say this as a former Secretary of Defense who death with many situations where military intervention was helpful, even vital, in the homeland — past epidemics, hurricanes and floods, and so forth. Equally abhorrent to me was the inclusion of defense leaders in political theater.”

Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel

Former defense secretaries under Obama

Joined Carter and 86 other former defense officials in Washington Post open letter on June 5

“As former leaders in the Defense Department — civilian and military, Republican, Democrat and independent — we all took an oath upon assuming office ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States’ as did the president and all members of the military, a fact that Gen. Milley pointed out in a recent memorandum to members of the armed forces. We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.”

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.