Gen Mattis’s skewering of the president is to be savoured but military discontent is not the bellwether of a true resistance‘Donald Trump dreams of parading armies down the streets of Washington. He exalts men with weapons the way football fans deify their favorite quarterbacks.’ Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPADonald Trump, like all strongmen, fetishizes military might. He dreams of parading armies down the streets of Washington. He exalts men with weapons the way football fans deify their favorite quarterbacks.Generals have always occupied a special place in Trump’s psyche. “General Mattis is a strong, highly dignified man,” Trump said in 2016, shortly before he tapped Jim Mattis to be his defense secretary. “You know he’s known as Mad Dog Mattis, right? Mad Dog for a reason.”The generals, though, are through with him. Mattis, no longer defense secretary, ridiculed Trump on Thursday night for dodging the Vietnam war and obsessing over fast food. The quips came after an infuriated Trump, on the defensive after Republicans and Democrats joined forces to condemn him for withdrawing troops from Syria, called Mattis the world’s most “overrated” general.“I have earned my spurs on the battlefield,” Mattis said. “Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from his doctor.”“The only person in the military Mr Trump does not feel is overrated,” he added, was Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC.William McRaven, a retired four-star navy admiral who led the US special operations command under George W Bush and Barack Obama, piled on Friday in a scathing New York Times op-ed, criticizing Trump for abandoning the Kurds in Syria. “If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us?” he wrote. “If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military?”It must be embarrassing for a president to be so thoroughly rebuked by those he formerly worshiped. Trump is far from losing the Republican party, which now belongs entirely to him, but he has successfully shattered the link between the GOP and the traditional foreign policy establishment. Now facing impeachment, Trump has suddenly lent hawks like Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney a rationale for one day voting against him.This does not mean his presidency is imperiled. And it does not mean that Trump’s approach to foreign policy, too feckless to be regarded as doveish or even isolationist, should be scrapped for what Graham or the generals desire, which is more war, forever war, troops marching through ravaged nations until the end of the century and beyond.Trump, in his own peculiar way, has a native instinct that resists the most violent impulses of his party. He has lied about his initial opposition to the Iraq war but is one of the only prominent Republicans who continues to condemn the myopic interventionism that once dominated both the Republican and Democratic foreign policy establishments. But unlike, say, Bernie Sanders, who offers a robust vision for a world where America no longer plays policeman with nukes, Trump has no workable alternative. His impulses are authoritarian – I alone can fix it – and ultimately reckless.Progressives shouldn’t root for a soft-style military junta, either, as some on the left are wont to do. The generals need less power, not more. It was Trump who, through the recruitment of Mattis and the former White House chief of staff John Kelly, uncomfortably merged domestic and military affairs. The generals, in turn, saw the madness up close.We can enjoy the turn of the generals, just as we can hope a Republican party currently cowed by Trump finds the courage to snuff him out. Of course, unlike Republican politicians, the generals do not have to be accountable to Trump’s ravenous base, the voters who may just keep him around for a second term. They can afford to ignore Fox News. For these facts alone, they cannot be regarded as bellwethers of a true resistance. We can only take comfort in Mattis’ quips and move on.
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