Military officials have said they are reluctant to appear alongside Donald Trump amid fears about the US president’s decision-making, according to reports.
Mr Trump triggered widespread anger earlier this week after he ordered the Navy to restore an accused war criminal’s rank, then later told supporters at a rally he made the decision despite “deep state” opposition.
Numerous veterans spoke out about the move to The Independent after defence secretary Mark Esper confirmed he was ordered by the president to retain Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher’s status in the elite service, as well as his Trident pin, a prestigious special warfare insignia.
But the move has also infuriated serving officers, according to CNN. One told the news channel the president’s actions were causing a “morale problem”, while another official said the military “is divided”.
"There are two camps. Half are ardent Trump supporters that believe the president is watching out for the troops,” the official said, adding the other half – many of who are high-ranking – believe the president is threatening the military’s public perception of political independence.
At least two senior military officers have expressed reluctance in recent months about appearing alongside Mr Trump at public events, CNN also reported, due to unease at the prospect of the president making partisan political comments.
Mr Trump’s decision to pardon Gallagher came following a months-long campaign by a host on the president’s favourite Fox News show, Fox & Friends.
Pete Hegseth, who presents the weekend edition of the conservative news programme, said he had held private conversations with Mr Trump in which he implored the president to restore Gallagher’s rank.
Veterans said the president should follow established legal and diplomatic frameworks rather than listening to his favourite television network when it comes to matters of military policy.
“There’s a reason we have the Geneva Convention. There’s a reason we have the Universal Code of Military Justice. There’s a reason we have the morale and ethics that we learn in training,” Josh Manning, a former Army intelligence officer, told The Independent.
“For Trump to just step in and undermine centuries worth of morale and discipline undercuts the very military that he’s trying to command.”
Alexander McCoy, a former Marine and political director of the veteran group Common Defence, said: “Ever since Donald Trump became president he’s been tearing the military apart, putting troops in the difficult position of needing to choose between obedience to his unhinged orders, and staying true to our code of honour.
“By pardoning war criminals because Fox News told him to, Trump showed he sees our military as a tool for massacres, not as the professional, honourable force we aspire to be.”
Gallagher, who was accused of killing Iraqi civilians and an unarmed Islamic State fighter, was acquitted in July of murder but found guilty of posing in a photograph with a war casualty.
On Monday, defence secretary Mark Esper announced Gallagher “will retain his Trident as the Commander in Chief directed and will retire at the end of this month”, adding the case “has dragged on for months” and “must end”.
It followed Mr Esper’s firing of Navy secretary Richard Spencer, who later condemned the president in an extraordinary letter for not sharing his views for “good order and discipline in the military”.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday, Mr Spencer went even further, accusing Mr Trump of having “very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices”.