Guy Snodgrass, who worked as a top aide to former Defense Secretary James Mattis, says that while he was surprised that Mattis recently issued a rare public criticism of President Trump, he also believes he was eager to speak up.
“Frankly, I think there’s an element of Mattis that just didn’t want to miss the boat,” Cmdr. Guy Snodgrass, a former Pentagon communications director and Mattis’s chief speechwriter, told the Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.
On Wednesday, Mattis, a retired Marine general who served as Trump’s first secretary of defense, said he was “angry and appalled” at the White House response to the nationwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd.
“When I joined the military some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said in a statement emailed to reporters.
“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.”
Snodgrass said that he has seen Mattis curse and even throw things in a fit of frustration brought on by working with the president, but added that Mattis rarely succumbs to his emotions.
“He has long been an adherent to stoicism,” Snodgrass said of Mattis. “He believes in trying to master control of yourself.”
Several top generals have publicly lambasted the president for politicizing the military in recent days. Mattis’s statement, which was first reported by the Atlantic, is unequivocal about the threat which Mattis believes Trump poses.
“He was always the good soldier, even in private,” Snodgrass said. “I can count the number of times on two hands when he would either board the aircraft after a particularly contentious meeting overseas with something the president had done, like an unannounced Twitter feed blast that would complicate his efforts at NATO or complicate his efforts in the Middle East.”
But Snodgrass said Mattis never complained and kept working.
The national conversation has focused on the use of military powers to limit protest since Monday when the White House deployed the National Guard to sometimes violently clear streets of demonstrators. On Monday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper described protest areas as “battle space” to be cleared and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley was seen in combat fatigues on the streets of the capital.
Mattis may have been triggered by the president’s misuse of soldiers, Snodgrass said, but his address was not specifically about the military.
“I think that [ordering troops to quash protest] was the breaking point,” Snodgrass said. “You had Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who’s of course widely respected on both sides of the aisle, he was the first out of the gate to release a statement saying that he deplored Trump’s leadership and his use of the military in a very politicized fashion.”
Mullen wrote in the Atlantic on Tuesday that he was “sickened” by the scene outside of St. John’s Church, where soldiers used tear gas on peaceful protestors to clear space for a Trump photo op.
Mattis’s comments, published not long after Mullen’s, were equally devastating.
He called Trump 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. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. “
Snodgrass said he believes Mattis spoke out because he fears a “significant breach” between civilians and the military. He said it is damaging for the American public to see “active-duty U.S. troops being paraded down the street and forcibly putting down demonstrators.”
Mattis’s public rebuke of the president is highly out of character, Snodgrass said. Mattis taught a Department of Defense class called “Capstone” in which he said “that when you retire your uniform or when you retire from a very senior public position, you retire your tongue,” Snodgrass recalled.
Even when Trump made Mattis’s job more complicated, the general would usually “eye roll or say something for about 10 to 15 seconds about his displeasure,” Snodgrass said. “And then it was, ‘OK, we’ve got a job to do.’”
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