I was responding to a story I saw that tied McMaster to the Russians as part of the larger Ukraine story--that the habit of taking the conversations between Trump and foreign leaders and putting it in a restricted place due to political considerations, rather than national security concerns, is not a new thing. Not just that McMaster was present but lied about it. Not a great look for a man who wrote a book about Dereliction of Duty and the need for generals to speak truth to power.The lesson from Mattis and McMaster and Kelly? Turns out stars on the shoulder are no guarantee of intelligence, wisdom, integrity, or, dare I say it, patriotism.— Steve Saideman (@smsaideman) September 28, 2019
The reaction to this tweet has been pretty stunning as I have not only gotten over 5k likes and 1k of retweets in about nine hours (maybe I should tweet after the poker game more often), but twitter's activity report indicates it has been seen by nearly 200,000 people. Pretty sure this is a record for me. I don't remember any tweet getting this much play.
So, how did folks respond and what does it mean?
First, folks noted I didn't include Flynn. Oops, my bad, but, to be fair, few were expecting him to be an adult in the room. His rep was crappy before he started at the White House, partly because of how he got fired by the Obama administration and partly by his performance at the convention in 2016. Some folks mention Mattis's salary, which I don't think is relevant. His poor judgment working at Theranos is fair evidence that the Warrior Monk had crappy judgement and, yes, questionable integrity, to support a company that was mostly operating on hoaxes and fumes. People also noted Joseph Maguire, but I didn't focus on him partly because his major newsworthiness happened while I was, ironically perhaps, playing wargames.
Second, I got heaps of current or former military folks saying that generals are often overrated so we should not be that surprised. Thus far, no real pushback from military folks saying that I know nothing since I haven't served. So, lots of stored up anger towards senior leadership not just for how they served Trump but for their leadership during the forever wars. One raised Wesley Clark as an alternative, and I had to push back as he nearly caused WWIII. See the first chapter of the Dave and Steve NATO book for how James Blunt, the singer, stopped Clark.
Third, many cited M*A*S*H as a show that frequently showed generals being wrong or severely flawed, but nothing since then like that. Indeed, the whole "support our troops" has made it hard to hold senior officers to account. Yes, civilians made the big decisions that have led to endless wars prosecuted poorly, but the military could have done better to adapt.
Fourth, no, we don't want a coup. But now that they are no longer in government, how about speaking out? They swore to defend the US from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Trump is clearly a threat. Some say, well, they probably stopped awful things from happening. I doubt it, but if so, tell us. This might move the needle for some of the Republican voters who continue to support Trump. Since these voters claim to be patriots, it might mean something if Mattis or McMaster came out and identified how Trump betrayed the country (revealing our intel methods) to the Russias and the like.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't want senior officers, retired or active, to be speaking out. Because the military should stay out of politics. But since these men chose to become political by joining the administration (and they all could have said no, as others did), they can't go back. This is one reason why Mattis's book turn is so very upsetting. He seems to want to use his time as SecDef to promote his book, but not to be held accountable for what he did as SecDef nor to help us get to the truth behind the Trump administration. He says as a retired general, he should not criticize the government. But (a) he does not hold back from criticizing Obama or Biden; and (b) he is no longer a retired general, but a resigned SecDef.
Finally, next time my sister scoffs at any prediction I make (since I got Nov 2016 wrong), I will point to this blog post about the General Problem.
So, yes, my slice of social media indicates that many people are really upset by these men, supposedly chock full of integrity and patriotism, did not do much when the Constitution and the country was on the line. Perhaps we need to venerate teachers and activists a bit more and the officers a bit less?