Following reports that President Trump nearly fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper over his criticism of the recent presidential photo-op in front of St. John’s Church (where a crowd of largely peaceful protesters was violently dispersed to make way for the president as he walked across the street from the White House to the church), another top military official – actually, the top military official in the US – is speaking up to slam the president over the decision to hold the photo op.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who appeared in the photo alongside Trump and Esper, told the New York Times that he regrets the decision because it gave the impression that ‘the military is becoming involved in politics’.
The country’s top military official apologized on Thursday for taking part in President Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square for a photo op after authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters.
“I should not have been there,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley’s statement is the latest indication of what the NYT described as “the deepest civil-military divide since the Vietnam War,” and “are certain to anger the White House.”
His first public remarks since Mr. Trump’s photo op, in which federal authorities attacked peaceful protesters so that the president could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, are certain to anger the White House, where Mr. Trump has spent the days since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis taking increasingly tougher stances against the growing movement for change across the country.
On Wednesday, the president picked another fight with the military, slapping down the Pentagon for considering renaming Army bases named after Confederate officers who fought against the Union in the Civil War.
The back and forth between Mr. Trump and the Pentagon in recent days is evidence of the deepest civil-military divide since the Vietnam War — except this time, military leaders, after halting steps in the beginning, are now positioning themselves firmly with those calling for change.
Mr. Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square, current and former military leaders say, has sparked a critical moment of reckoning in the military.
“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from,” General Milley said. He said he had been angry about “the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd,” and repeated his opposition to Mr. Trump’s suggestions that federal troops be deployed nationwide to quell protests.
Milley added that he has been “agonizing” over the decision for the last week and a half.
General Milley’s friends said that for the past 10 days, he had been agonized about appearing – in the combat fatigues he wears every day to work – behind Mr. Trump during the walk across Lafayette Square, an act that critics said gave a stamp of military approval to the hard-line tactics used to clear the protesters.
The general believed that he was accompanying Mr. Trump and his entourage to review National Guard troops and other law enforcement personnel outside Lafayette Square, Defense Department officials said.
Will President Trump, who has been waging a different war with the military over the Pentagon’s plans to rename bases named after Confederate generals, chime in to fire Milley, or Esper, on Twitter before the weekend? We wouldn’t be surprised if he did.