Pen­tagon-Trump clash breaks open over use of mil­i­tary to quell protests

GOP’s Murkowski calls crit­i­cism of pres­i­dent ‘nec­es­sary and over­due’

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - BY ZEKE MILLER AND ROBERT BURNS

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump was not only draw­ing crit­i­cism from his usual po­lit­i­cal foes on Thurs­day but also fac­ing push­back from his de­fense sec­re­tary, his for­mer Pen­tagon chief and a grow­ing num­ber of fel­low Repub­li­cans.

A day af­ter De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark Esper shot down Trump’s idea of us­ing ac­tive-duty troops to quell protests across the United States, re­tired four-star Gen. John Allen joined the cho­rus of for­mer mil­i­tary lead­ers go­ing af­ter the pres­i­dent. And Repub­li­can Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Esper’s re­marks were “over­due” and she didn’t know if she would sup­port Trump in Novem­ber.

Although Esper’s dec­la­ra­tion was fol­lowed by the Pen­tagon re­vers­ing course on pulling part of the 82nd Air­borne Di­vi­sion off standby out­side Wash­ing­ton, the ris­ing crit­i­cism un­der­scored an ex­tra­or­di­nary clash be­tween the U.S. mil­i­tary and its com­man­der in chief. On Thurs­day, an of­fi­cial said the troops in ques­tion from the 82nd were go­ing home to Fort Bragg, N.C., af­ter all.

Both Trump and Esper also drew sting­ing, rare pub­lic crit­i­cism from Trump’s first de­fense sec­re­tary, Jim Mat­tis, in the most pub­lic push­back of Trump’s pres­i­dency from the men he put at the helm of the world’s most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary.

Mat­tis’ re­buke Wed­nes­day fol­lowed Trump’s threats to use the mil­i­tary to “dom­i­nate” the streets where Amer­i­cans are demon­strat­ing fol­low­ing the death of Ge­orge Floyd, a black man who died when a white po­lice of­fi­cer pressed his knee into his neck for sev­eral min­utes. Trump had urged gov­er­nors to call out the Na­tional Guard to con­tain protests that turned vi­o­lent and warned that he could send in ac­tive duty mil­i­tary forces if they did not.

Esper an­gered Trump when he said he op­posed us­ing mil­i­tary troops for law en­force­ment, seem­ingly tak­ing the teeth out of the pres­i­dent’s threat to use the In­sur­rec­tion Act. Esper said the 1807 law should be in­voked

“only in the most ur­gent and dire of sit­u­a­tions.” He added, “We are not in one of those sit­u­a­tions now.”

Af­ter Esper’s visit to the White House, the Pen­tagon abruptly over­turned an ear­lier de­ci­sion to send a cou­ple of hun­dred ac­tive-duty sol­diers home from the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., re­gion, a pub­lic sign of the grow­ing ten­sions with the White House. That re­ver­sal was re­versed on Thurs­day.

For­mer Sec­re­tary Mat­tis, a re­tired Ma­rine gen­eral, lam­basted both Trump and Esper in an es­say in The At­lantic for their con­sid­er­a­tion of us­ing the ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary in law en­force­ment — and for the use of the Na­tional Guard in clear­ing out a largely peace­ful protest near the White House on Mon­day even­ing.

“We must re­ject any think­ing of our cities as a ‘bat­tlespace’ that our uni­formed mil­i­tary is called upon to ‘dom­i­nate,’” Mat­tis wrote, ref­er­enc­ing quotes by Esper and Trump re­spec­tively. “Mil­i­ta­riz­ing our re­sponse, as we wit­nessed in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., sets up a con­flict — a false con­flict — be­tween the mil­i­tary and civil­ian so­ci­ety.”

Trump re­sponded on Twit­ter by call­ing Mat­tis “the world’s most over­rated Gen­eral,” adding: “I didn’t like his ‘lead­er­ship’ style or much else about him, and many oth­ers agree, Glad he is gone!”

Yet an­other for­mer mil­i­tary leader, re­tired Ma­rine Corps four-star gen­eral Allen, said that events on Mon­day, the day Trump walked to the church, “may well sig­nal the be­gin­ning of the end of the Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment.”

Allen, pres­i­dent of the lib­eral-lean­ing Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, con­trasted the rout­ing of the pro­test­ers in Lafayette Park with re­marks by Floyd’s brother, Ter­rence Floyd, who de­nounced loot­ing that he said tar­nishes his brother’s mem­ory.

Then, on Thurs­day, Alaska Sen. Murkowski said she was “re­ally thank­ful” for Mat­tis’ com­ments. She said she thought his “words were true and hon­est and nec­es­sary and over­due.”

“I felt like per­haps we’re get­ting to the point where we can be more hon­est with the con­cerns that we might hold in­ter­nally, and have the courage of our own con­vic­tions to speak up,” she said. Asked if she could sup­port Trump for re-elec­tion, she said, “I am strug­gling with it.”

Days ago, Esper had or­dered about 1,300 Army per­son­nel to mil­i­tary bases out­side the na­tion’s cap­i­tal as Trump weighed whether to in­voke the In­sur­rec­tion Act and send ac­tive-duty troops into the city, scene of large protests that de­volved into vi­o­lence and loot­ing over the week­end. But af­ter a night of calm en­forced by a large de­ploy­ment of Na­tional Guard troops and heav­ily armed fed­eral law en­force­ment agents, de­fense of­fi­cials said the troops would be­gin re­turn­ing to their home base.

Army Sec­re­tary Ryan McCarthy said the de­ci­sion was re­versed af­ter Esper’s visit to the White House.

The shift added to con­fu­sion over the pres­i­dent’s threat to in­voke the In­sur­rec­tion Act for protests fol­low­ing Floyd’s death in Min­neapo­lis. White House of­fi­cials had in­di­cated even be­fore Esper’s com­ments that Trump was back­ing away from in­vok­ing the act.

For­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense Jim Mat­tis on Wed­nes­day con­demned Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for or­der­ing the Na­tional Guard to put down a largely peace­ful protest near the White House.

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