The end of a Trump love af­fair with ‘his’ gen­er­als

Gen­er­als be­lieve in in­ten­sive study and prepa­ra­tion be­fore act­ing. Trump, by con­trast, doesn’t read and dis­dains in-depth brief­ings in fa­vor of mak­ing de­ci­sions based on his “gut.”

The Day - - PERSPECTIVE - By MAX A. BOOT Max A. Boot is an Amer­i­can au­thor, consultant, ed­i­to­ri­al­ist, lec­turer, and mil­i­tary his­to­rian. He is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Se­nior Fel­low in Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

Like many a love­less mar­riage of con­ve­nience, the union be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and “his” gen­er­als has ended in re­crim­i­na­tion and heart­break.

Af­ter Trump im­petu­ously an­nounced a troop with­drawal from Syria last month, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis, a re­tired Ma­rine four-star gen­eral, re­signed on Dec. 20 — with a let­ter blast­ing the pres­i­dent for not “treat­ing al­lies with re­spect” and not “be­ing cleareyed about both malign ac­tors and strate­gic com­peti­tors.”

Trump char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally in­sulted him in re­turn, de­mand­ing, “What’s he done for me?” and claim­ing that “Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama fired him and es­sen­tially so did I.” No, Mat­tis quit. Trump did fire White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, an­other for­mer Ma­rine gen­eral. Dur­ing a post-fir­ing in­ter­view, Kelly did not praise his boss’ achieve­ments but rather his own suc­cess in avert­ing dis­as­ters — in­clud­ing pre­vent­ing Trump from break­ing the law.

By then, two other gen­er­als were long gone. Michael Flynn, a re­tired Army three-star gen­eral, was forced out as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser af­ter just 24 days and is now a felon. His suc­ces­sor, H.R. McMaster, an ac­tive-duty Army three-star gen­eral, lasted just more than a year and left lament­ing Trump’s fail­ure to im­pose “suf­fi­cient costs” against Rus­sia for its ag­gres­sion.

Trump has been en­gaged in a war of words with two other re­tired gen­eral of­fi­cers — Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions su­per­stars Wil­liam McRaven and Stan­ley McChrys­tal. Re­tired Navy Adm. McRaven, a SEAL who over­saw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said of Trump: “Through your ac­tions, you have em­bar­rassed us in the eyes of our chil­dren, hu­mil­i­ated us on the world stage and, worst of all, di­vided us as a na­tion.”

Trump lamely shot back: “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner,” as if it was McRaven’s fault the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity had trou­ble track­ing the leader of al-Qaida.

McChrys­tal, a re­tired Army fourstar gen­eral, de­scribed Trump as un­truth­ful and im­moral, lead­ing Trump to re­tort with his char­ac­ter­is­tic cru­dity: “‘Gen­eral’ McChrys­tal got fired like a dog by Obama. Last as­sign­ment a to­tal bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hil­lary lover!” Note the quo­ta­tion marks: Trump seems to be sug­gest­ing that any­one who crit­i­cizes him isn’t a real gen­eral.

What hap­pened?

Why was this mar­riage doomed from the start? Let us count the ways:

Gen­er­als be­lieve in in­ten­sive study and prepa­ra­tion be­fore act­ing. The best ones are stu­dents of his­tory and pol­i­tics. Mat­tis, who coun­seled his Marines to “en­gage your brain be­fore you en­gage your weapon,” be­came fa­mous for tak­ing a li­brary with him on ev­ery as­sign­ment. McRaven has writ­ten three books, in­clud­ing a well-re­garded study of Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions forces. McChrys­tal pro­duced a thought­ful mem­oir, as well as a book on lead­er­ship. Trump, by con­trast, doesn’t read and dis­dains in-depth brief­ings in fa­vor of mak­ing de­ci­sions based on his “gut” — and his view­ing of Fox News.

Gen­er­als are sup­posed to live by an honor code. (Flynn ob­vi­ously fell short.) All the ser­vice acad­e­mies teach that you “will not lie, cheat, steal, nor tol­er­ate” those who do. The con­se­quences for vi­o­lat­ing that code are se­vere: Paul Whe­lan, who is now a pris­oner in Rus­sia, re­ceived a bad-con­duct dis­charge from the Marines for at­tempt­ing to steal more than $10,000 in Iraq. Trump lives by a very dif­fer­ent code: Do any­thing you can get away with, whether it’s stiff­ing con­trac­tors, ly­ing to the pub­lic or pay­ing off mis­tresses.

Gen­er­als are non­par­ti­san. They serve pres­i­dents of both par­ties and must avoid any in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics. Trump, by con­trast, is patho­log­i­cally par­ti­san: He de­nounces Democrats as traitors who be­long be­hind bars. One can only imagine what the gen­er­als thought as they watched Trump treat his visit to the troops in Iraq as though it was a cam­paign rally. Or when he de­ployed troops to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der just be­fore the midterm elec­tions as a po­lit­i­cal stunt. The politi­ciza­tion of the mil­i­tary will be one of Trump’s bale­ful lega­cies.

Gen­er­als are ded­i­cated to the United States’ al­lies. Trump’s gen­er­als spent years train­ing and fight­ing along­side al­lied armed forces. They see al­lies as “force mul­ti­pli­ers” that re­duce the num­ber of Amer­i­cans sent into harm’s way. Trump sees al­lies as free­loaders who take ad­van­tage of our gen­eros­ity. He seethed last year: “We’re like the piggy bank that ev­ery­body’s rob­bing.” Trump has no com­punc­tion about aban­don­ing al­lies, whether they be Kurds in Syria or Afghans, by with­draw­ing U.S. troops. The gen­er­als, by con­trast, see pre­ma­ture pull­outs as a be­trayal of sa­cred com­mit­ments to those who have risked their lives fight­ing along­side our forces.

With his in­suf­fer­able boast­ful­ness, Trump claimed, “I think I would have been a good gen­eral.” Ac­tu­ally, he would never have made it to first lieu­tenant, be­cause his me-first ethos is so at odds with the mil­i­tary’s stress on ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. All that Trump knows about the mil­i­tary seems to come from movies such as “Pat­ton” and “Blood­sport.”

His ex­po­sure to real-life gen­er­als re­vealed an un­bridge­able chasm be­tween the com­man­der in chief and those un­der his com­mand. The gen­er­als tried to shield the armed forces, and the world, from an outof-con­trol chief ex­ec­u­tive — and, in the process, they were them­selves sul­lied to vary­ing de­grees. It was a well-in­ten­tioned en­ter­prise but one doomed to de­feat. Trump can­not stand be­ing told what to do by those more com­pe­tent and qual­i­fied than him­self — or be­ing dis­dained when he falls short of their ex­act­ing stan­dards.

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