A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said this morning that he worries about “how good outcomes come out of” three retired generals being leaned on for stability in the executive branch.
During an Oct. 6 address at the Naval Institute, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, who spent four years leading the Joint Chiefs during the Bush and Obama administrations, asked, “How did we get here to a point where we are depending on retired generals for the stability of our system? And what happens if that bulwark breaks, first of all?”
“I have been in too many countries globally where the generals, if you will, gave great comfort to their citizens,” Mullen added. “That is not the United States of America.”
This morning on ABC, Mullen explained that he’s “talked with people across the country since President Trump came in that actually take great comfort in the fact that three generals — General Kelly, General McMaster, and General Mattis — all serve this president in what has been a pretty chaotic first year.”
“They are dependent on those three individuals for stability, calmness, reasoned views for the future,” he said. “And the worry that I have actually is they’re also really, for the first time in their lives, inside the White House and inside this political environment, which I certainly grew to understand over four years as chairman. It’s a very difficult environment. It’s a foreign environment to all of them and so they’re trying to get their job done while operating in a political environment that they’re adjusting to. So, I have concerns with respect to how that outcome, how good outcomes come out of that.”
Mullen said he thought National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, whose role “is to really just present options, almost be neutral in that regard… got out a little early on policy.”
“In recent weeks and months, I think he’s been much more subdued in that regard,” he added.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, the admiral opined, has shown “he clearly is very supportive of the president no matter what,” and “that was really a sad moment for me” when the general was “politicizing the death of his own son” while supporting President Trump during the back-and-forth with a Gold Star family and their congresswoman over Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in Niger.
“I don’t know the Mike Flynn that I have seen since he made a decision to endorse very strongly and publicly President Trump,” Mullen said of the former Defense Intelligence Agency head. “I was very concerned about him speaking at the Republican convention, as I was with John Allen speaking at the Democratic convention. I think it sends the wrong message on the American people in terms of politicizing the military, and actually undermining the institutions they care so much about.”
The former Joint Chiefs chairman called the trio of generals in the Trump administration “great Americans” who are trying to do their best, but stressed that “from the standpoint of what it represents in terms of the civilian control of the military and the possible politicization of the military is a big worry for me.”
Mullen said he believes the use of nuclear weapons is “more probable than it used to be — and it scares me to death, quite frankly.”
“I think any senior military officer always approaches it from the standpoint of we’re not going to follow an illegal order,” he said. “That said, the president is in a position to give a legal order to use those weapons. And the likelihood that given that order that it would be carried out I think would be pretty high.”