(CN) — After more than a year of remaining silent, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday issued a scathing rebuke of President Trump’s use of military force to repel protesters and denounced the president’s ability to lead.
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis wrote in a denouncement published in The Atlantic. “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.”
Mattis referred to Monday when federal troops cleared out protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park so President Donald Trump could walk over to historic St. John’s Church to pose for photos while holding up a Bible.
“Donald Trump 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,” Mattis wrote. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
The comments from the retired four-star Marine Corps general come as protests have spread across the country following the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he wrote. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding.”
Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December 2018 in protest of Trump’s policy concerning the civil war in Syria. He had remained silent regarding criticism of the administration, but chastized current Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Wednesday’s statement.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’ At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors.
“Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.”
Esper distanced himself from the president on Wednesday, saying that he did not agree on using troops to police protesters.
“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations,” Esper said. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Mattis called for national unity in his statement, recalling America’s effort against Nazi Germany in World War II.
“Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that ‘The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer,’” he wrote. “Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’ We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.”
Trump responded to the comment on Twitter Wednesday night.
“Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” Trump tweeted. “I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about it. His nickname was ‘Chaos’, which I didn’t like, & changed it 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!”