Retired four-star US Navy Adm. James Stavridis wrote a scathing opinion column about President Donald Trump, in which he highlighted the military generals who have since left his administration.
Stavridis, who served as NATO’s 16th Supreme Allied Commander and is currently an executive at a financial management organization, suggested Trump was “attracted to the macho, direct, domineering profile that many civilians associate with generals” and similar portrayals of military leaders in movies.
The retired admiral speculated that the aforementioned “macho” image associated with military leaders is why the president surrounded himself with his generals.
“[Trump] may have thought associating with them would burnish his own credentials as an alpha male,” Stavridis wrote in TIME. “But it has likely dawned on Trump that generals are more cerebral than he ever would have guessed, have a pesky habit of quietly judging him in ways that got under his skin, are more intellectual planners than operational Rambos, and don’t quite care about the politics and media signals that the President holds dear.”
Stavridis continued by comparing Trump to the midshipmen and cadets at US military academies, who are held to a strict code of conduct.
“There was also an ongoing sense that the President’s moral structure was, shall we say charitably, unconventional to the military mind,” Stavridis said. “Cadets and midshipmen at the service academies operate on a very simple honor code: to not lie, to not cheat, to not steal.”
“Every year, a handful of young officers run afoul and are summarily dismissed,” Stavridis added. “For those who follow along the career path, any officer who violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice in any way … would be court-martialed and removed from the service. The President’s style of playing loose with the truth and facts … grate on the military mind.”
The latest general to quit the Trump White House was former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in December, citing policy differences with the president. After Mattis’ resignation letter was made public and his differences with Trump became clearer, his scheduled departure of February was accelerated to the end of 2018.
Stavridis recounted a discussion he had with Mattis prior to becoming Trump’s defense secretary. Stavridis asked Mattis, a former four-star US Marine, whether his personality would clash with Trump’s if he took on the role.
“He said it might not be ‘mission impossible’ but he knew it was going to be ‘mission very difficult,'” Stavridis said, adding that the comment came “from a man who has repeatedly taken on the toughest of assignments.”
Many generals who transitioned into the Trump White House have left:
- Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a former three-star US Army general, was fired after he was discovered to have lied to the FBI.
- H.R. McMaster, Flynn’s replacement and a former three-star US Army general, was fired amid numerous reports of conflicts with Trump.
- Former White House chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general in the US Marine Corps, left in December. Kelly later went on to describe the job as “bone-crushing hard,” but said he opted to take the position because of a sense of duty.
Stavridis appeared to understand Kelly’s reasoning, but questioned whether his and other generals’ commitment to a greater good was achieved by taking on a Cabinet role in the Trump administration.
“In the military, we say the first duty of an officer is to bring order out of chaos,” he wrote. “I’m glad that the generals stepped into the breach.”
“But in the end, each of them had to ask himself, ‘At what point does my serving in this White House become less a guardrail and more an enabler?'”