Trump’s harsh rhetoric is not resonating well with the US military leadership, which is not willing to suppress its own citizens like in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When US President Donald Trump decided to walk to the Saint John’s, the Church of the Presidents, in Washington DC on Monday for a photo opportunity along with his cabinet members, scenes on the streets of the nation’s capital were chaotic - they resembled Iraq’s war-torn cities.
The images coming out of a protest site in the American capital, which showed the National Guard attacking protesters in order to clear the streets for Trump's entourage, have irked the country’s top military brass.
The US military leadership has a history of cracking down on Iraqis, Afghans and citizens of other countries that are deemed as the enemy of the nation.
Many remember the famed lines from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Full Metal Jacket, in which a diehard army officer attempts to turn soft-faced American men into battle-hardened soldiers with no mercy for imaginary enemies.
“The purpose of the military is to train soldiers to treat the enemy as inferior human beings or not human beings at all because that makes them easier to kill,” Sergeant Alan Kraus, a former Vietnam veteran, told the New York Times.
Kraus thinks that that kind of training would create destructive results if the military were ordered to quell protests in big US cities now.
Many Americans, including the country’s top generals, remember tragic past scenes from the anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s, when National Guard troops were deployed against people in the streets or the universities.
An unhappy military under Trump
In the face of all the criticism, the country’s top general, Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared to regret participating in the walk to St John’s.
“Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it,” Gen. Milley wrote in a military memo, emphasising the sacrosanct character of “the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”
Other top commanders joined him, explaining their reasons in even stronger terms.
“I will never know what it feels like when you watch that video of Mr. Floyd’s murder. And I can’t imagine the pain and the disappointment and the anger that many of you felt when you saw that,” said Adm. Gilday, the Navy Chief, in a video he recorded at home.
“Every American should be outraged that the conduct exhibited by police in Minneapolis can still happen in 2020,” said Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force’s top commander, in a military memo.
Their moderate stances reveal a stark contrast to Trump’s heavy-handed approach, signalling a growing discomfort in the US military’s top leadership concerning some of the administrative policies.
The Pentagon, which has seen several different chiefs under Trump, does not seem to be subservient to a president, choosing to make decisions based on its own judgment rather than a political process where consultations carry crucial weight.
Like his predecessors, Mark Esper, the current Pentagon chief, who is also a former military officer, appears to have a difficult time with Trump.
"The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations," said Esper in a press conference at the Pentagon, rejecting Trump’s approach to deploy the US military in areas where police forces appear to be inadequate to quell the protests.
Trump was reportedly angry with him, and has been contemplating his removal. “As of right now”, Esper is still in situ.
But tensions between the Pentagon and Trump are only expected to escalate as more former top commanders come forward to express their opposition to the president’s moves.
Jim Mattis, the former Pentagon chief, and several former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Martin Dempsey and Mike Mullen, are among them.
“The relationship between the American people and the military — who they represent and serve — would be adversely affected if this was not handled very carefully,” Dempsey said in an interview with NPR.
The military appears to enjoy a high popularity across the US. Apparently, generals do not want to lose it at all.
A 2019 Gallup poll showed that more than 70 percent of Americans feel “a great deal” of confidence in the military, rating it the best public institution of the country.