James Mattis, the former secretary of defense under Donald Trump, wrote a blistering statement criticizing his former boss, writing that he 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,” Mattis said. “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.”
The statement, first published in The Atlantic, was extraordinary coming from Mattis, who indicated last year that he would stay silent of his criticisms of Trump. But he added in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, “There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever.”
Mattis singled out the images from Monday, when protesters were forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square in advance of Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible as he posed for photographers.
“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square,” Mattis wrote in his statement. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”
He also criticized the use of the military in response to unrest in major cities, arguing that it “sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society.”
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis wrote. “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.”
Trump later wrote on Twitter, “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.” His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom “brought home the bacon”. I didn’t like his “leadership” style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”