Big guns of military clash with Trump

Top News | AP, AFP 5 Jun 2020

US President Donald Trump's Pentagon chief shot down his idea of using troops to quell protests across the country and then reversed course on pulling part of the 82nd Airborne Division off standby in an extraordinary clash between the American military and its commander in chief.

Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper also drew stinging, rare criticism from Trump's first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, in the most public pushback of the presidency from men he put at the helm.

Mattis' rebuke followed Trump's threats to use the military to "dominate" the streets where Americans demonstrated after the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck.

Trump had urged governors to call out the National Guard to contain protests that turned violent and warned he could send in active-duty military if they did not.

Then Esper angered Trump when he said he opposed using military troops for law enforcement, seemingly taking the teeth out of the president's threat to use the Insurrection Act.

Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked in the United States "only in the most urgent and dire of situations.''

But after a subsequent visit by Esper to the White House, the Pentagon abruptly reversed a decision to send hundreds of active-duty soldiers home from the Washington region - a sign of growing tensions with the White House amid mounting criticism the military was being politicized.

Former secretary Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, lambasted both Trump and Esper in The Atlantic magazine for their consideration of using regular military in law-enforcement work and for sending National Guard soldiers to clear largely peaceful protesters near the White House on Monday evening to allow Trump to pose for photographs with a Bible at a nearby damaged church.

That was an "abuse of executive authority," he said.

And "we must reject any thinking of our cities as a 'battlespace' that our uniformed military is called upon to 'dominate,' '' Mattis wrote, referencing quotes by Esper and Trump.

That "sets up a conflict - a false conflict - between the military and civilian society.''

Mattis also accused Trump of trying to "divide" America and failing to provide "mature leadership" as the country reeled from protests.

Mattis, who quit in December 2018 over Trump's ordering of a troop withdrawal from Syria, also voiced support for the demonstrators and their anti-racism rallies.

"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people - does not even pretend to try," he declared.

"We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."

Trump responded on Twitter by calling Mattis "the world's most overrated general.''

He added: "I didn't like his leadership' style or much else about him."

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