Is the US military overrated?

US military criticizes President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump's handling of the unrest in the country has met with unusually fierce resistance from high-ranking military officials. Trump's former US Secretary of Defense James Mattis sided with the peaceful protests in a rare and drastic statement and criticized the president as a divider. Criticism also came from other retired military officials.

The incumbent Defense Secretary Mark Esper had previously spoken out against the use of the US military to stop the unrest and had thus clearly distanced himself from Trump. Thoughtful words also came from all four surviving former US presidents.

For days there have been demonstrations against police violence and racism in many US cities. The trigger is the death of the African American George Floyd after a brutal police operation in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25th. Some of the protests degenerated into riots and looting. Trump, who is running for a second term in the November election, is already struggling with the corona pandemic and the economic crisis it triggered. Now there is social turmoil.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was evasive about Trump's responsibility for police violence and racism in the USA. When asked whether Trump was playing a role in the polarization in the United States, Merkel said on Thursday on the ZDF program “What now, Mrs. Merkel”: “I think the political style is already a very controversial one.”

Society in the United States is very polarized. The death of the African American Floyd was "something very, very terrible," said Merkel. “Racism is something terrible.” It has existed at all times, unfortunately also in Germany.

On Monday, Trump threatened to stop the unrest with the use of military force if necessary. He is considering to activate the "Insurrection Act". The 1807 law allows the US president, under certain circumstances, to use the military domestically to crush lawlessness and insurrections - which is highly controversial.

"Three years without mature leadership"

Mattis reacted "angry and horrified" to the events of the past few days and accused Trump of general failure. The 69-year-old wrote in an article for the magazine “The Atlantic”, who wrote that he was the first president he saw who was not trying to unite the country, but had been trying to divide the country for three years Wednesday evening (local time). "We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."

The retired general's voice carries weight in the United States. He is one of the most respected military figures in the country. Mattis resigned as Secretary of Defense in early 2019 due to a disagreement with Trump. At the time, both Democratic and Republican politicians reacted in shock to Mattis' departure: In their opinion, the last voice of reason in the Trump administration disappeared with him. Mattis had not criticized the president publicly since then.

But now he spoke up all the more vehemently. Mattis criticized the incident on Monday, when a protest in front of the White House was violently broken up to enable Trump to stage himself in front of a nearby church. Mattis spoke of "abuse of government power". So far he has not been able to imagine that soldiers would be ordered to “violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens” in order to enable the Commander-in-Chief to make a “bizarre photo appearance”.

Mattis received unexpected encouragement from the ranks of Trump's own party: Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski - generally known as rather Trump-skeptical, said on Thursday that Mattis' words were "true and honest and necessary and overdue". Perhaps the point has now been reached to be more honest and openly express internal concerns. In any case, you find it difficult to continue to support Trump.

Trump reacted angrily to Mattis' criticism and called him on Twitter "the most overrated general in the world". He did not appreciate his manager and was glad that he was gone.

Ex-presidents also speak out

Apparently, Esper's distancing did not go down well with the president either. Esper said on Wednesday that he was against activating the "Insurrection Act" in the current situation and thus enabling the military to be used in the unrest.

This "should only be used as a last resort and only in the most urgent and dire situations". Such a situation does not currently exist. The fact that the incumbent Pentagon boss is so publicly at a distance from the country’s commander in chief is highly unusual.

When asked whether the president still had confidence in his defense minister in view of these statements, Trump's spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said shortly thereafter: "Minister Esper is currently Minister Esper." about Esper and have already raised the question of a replacement - but advisors strongly advised against him.

On Tuesday, the former US Chief of Staff Mike Mullen was horrified by Trump's actions - the threat of military violence and the pushing back of demonstrators to clear the way for a photo opportunity. The events made him sick and made it impossible to remain silent, wrote Mullen in the US magazine "The Atlantic".

All four surviving former US presidents - Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama - have now also commented on the protests. Comments from them are rather rare. They all condemned systematic racism in the US and the continuing discrimination against blacks. All of them also - more or less directly - criticized the Trump administration.

Trump has sharply condemned Floyd's death on several occasions and stressed the right to peaceful protests. However, he is accused of not taking a clear position against racism and not showing enough understanding for the anger over discrimination and injustice in the country.

Justice Minister defends action

Meanwhile, US Attorney General William Barr defended crackdown on protesters outside the White House on Monday and the President's controversial photo op that followed. Barr said in Washington on Thursday that he considered Trump's behavior "perfectly appropriate".

As U.S. President, Trump should be able to walk from the White House to a nearby church. The clearing of the area in front of the government headquarters had nothing to do with Trump's subsequent appearance in front of the church. It had already been planned to expand the buffer zone between the demonstrators and the White House.

The protests continued on Wednesday evening (local time) in several US cities - despite curfews in some cases. Minnesota prosecutors on Wednesday charged three police officers involved in Floyd's arrest with complicity and arrested them. The charges against the policeman who is held responsible for Floyd's death have also been tightened. He now has to answer in court for, among other things, second-degree murder, which can result in up to 40 years in prison.

During the police operation in Minneapolis, the officer had his knee pressed into Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes - despite all requests from the 46-year-old to let him breathe. The three other officers were involved in the arrest of Floyd. All four were released immediately after the incident became known through videos of passers-by. Floyd was arrested on suspicion of paying with a counterfeit $ 20 bill.

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