Washington | Donald Trump’s relationship with his military has been at its worst since Defense Minister Mark Esper and respected former military officials, including Jim Mattis, disavowed the president on his response to anti-racism protests in the country.
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The head of the Pentagon has publicly disassociated himself from the president, who is commander-in-chief of the American armed forces, by declaring himself opposed to the deployment of the American army on the territory to respond to the enamelled demonstrations of riots which have won the whole of the United States after the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer.
“I am not in favor of declaring a state of insurrection,” said Mr. Esper, referring to the only decree that would legally allow the president to deploy active soldiers to American citizens, and no longer to reservists. the National Guard.
A few hours later, it was the predecessor of Mr. Esper, Jim Mattis who, on Wednesday, dealt a frontal blow to Donald Trump by accusing him of wanting to “divide” America, in a forum published by the review The Atlantic.
“When I joined the military, about 50 years ago, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” wrote the former head of the Pentagon, who resigned with a bang in December 2018 for protest Trump’s announcement of a total withdrawal from Syria, without consultation with Washington’s allies.
“I never imagined that soldiers who take the same oath could be ordered, under any circumstances, to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – and even less to allow the elected commander-in-chief to ‘Go and pose for a photo, absurdly, with the military leaders by his side’.
Politicize the military
Mattis was referring to the devastating images of Mr. Esper and the Chief of the General Staff, General Mark Milley, marching Monday evening with Mr. Trump near the White House after the brutal dispersal of protesters protesting peacefully.
Two former chiefs of staff also intervened in the debate. “America is not a battlefield. Our citizens are not the enemy, “tweeted ex-general Martin Dempsey, who led the staff from 2011 to 2015.
His immediate predecessor, ex-General Mike Mullen, said he was concerned that the military “would be used for political gain”.
David Lapan, a former Pentagon spokesperson, told the AFP that he had never seen such a disavowal from the president, including by someone of Jim Mattis’ stature.
“This president politicized the military like never before,” he added, recalling the footage outside the church on Monday evening.
Esper and General Milley “waited too long” before dissociating themselves from the president and “they let the situation escalate,” he added. “They have to some extent lost the confidence of the troops and the American public.”
Even late, Mark Esper’s public statement against the use of the military against protesters freed speech in the Pentagon and opened the debate on racial disparities.
“I’m George Floyd,” tweeted a staff adviser, US Air Force Warrant Officer Kaleth Wright, who is black. “What happens too often in this country to black men victims of police brutality (…) could happen to me.”
“Every soldier and civilian employee of the Department of Defense takes an oath to support and defend our constitution,” Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy reminded troops. “This includes the right of the people to assemble peacefully.”
General Robert Abrams, who commands US forces in South Korea, said on Friday that he himself had opened a debate on racism within his forces.
“What I heard breaks my heart. We need to do better, “he tweeted, calling on all of his unit leaders to open a debate with their soldiers, even if they are not aware of any problems. Because “if you don’t see a problem, you may be part of the problem”.
It is now the future of the Minister of Defense who appears fragile. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany refrained from saying on Thursday whether Mr. Esper still had the president’s confidence.