McChrystal Slams Trump Over Mattis Resignation, Syria Withdrawal

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, in Istanbul, Feb. 4, 2010. (U.S. Army/Cherie Cullen)
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, in Istanbul, Feb. 4, 2010. (U.S. Army/Cherie Cullen)

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal said Sunday that the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis should give Americans pause about the direction of the nation under what he termed the "immoral" leadership of President Donald Trump.

"I don't think he tells the truth," McChrystal said in a blistering critique of Trump and the planned withdrawal of the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC-TV's "This Week" program.

ABC co-anchor Martha Raddatz then asked "Is Trump immoral, in your view?" McChrystal replied: "I think he is."

McChrystal, who served as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008 and took command of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2009, said he would not go so far as to tell Trump supporters that "they are wrong," but he made clear that they should question his leadership.

"What I would ask every American to do," he said, "is stand in front of that mirror and say, 'What are we about? Am I really willing to throw away or ignore some of the things that people do that are -- are pretty unacceptable normally just because they accomplish certain other things that we might like?

"If we want to be governed by someone we wouldn't do a business deal with because their -- their background is so shady, if we're willing to do that, then that's in conflict with who I think we are. And so I think it's necessary at those times to take a stand."

McChrystal's interview aired a day before Mattis' resignation will officially take effect at midnight Monday. Mattis' authorities will transition to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, who has agreed to serve as acting Secretary until Trump settles on a permanent replacement.

In his stunning resignation letter, issued a day after Trump announced the Syria withdrawal via Twitter, Mattis said that national security interests were best served when the U.S. worked with allies and partnered local forces. He said Trump deserved a Defense Secretary whose views were more aligned with his own.

McChrystal said Americans should "pause and say, wait a minute, if we have someone who is as selfless and as committed as Jim Mattis resign his position, walking away from all the responsibility he feels for every service member in our forces and he does so in a public way like that, we ought to stop and say, 'OK, why did he do it?'"

McChrystal said potential successors to Mattis should consider whether they would have to compromise their own principles to serve under Trump.

"I would ask [potential candidates] to look in the mirror and ask them if they can get comfortable enough with President Trump's approach to governance, how he conducts himself with his values and with his worldview to be truly loyal to him as a commander in chief and going forward," McChrystal said.

McChrystal also argued against the Syria withdrawal of all U.S. forces and the potential withdrawal of about half of the estimated 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

"If you pull American influence out, you're likely to have greater instability, and of course it'll be much more difficult for the United States to try to push events in any direction. There is an argument that says we just pull up our stuff, go home, let the region run itself. That has not done well for the last 50 or 60 years," McChrystal said.

McChrystal himself resigned in 2010 after 34 years of service when he faced possible firing by President Barack Obama over disparaging comments in a Rolling Stone article about then-Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials.

He later went on to work with former First Lady Michelle Obama in her "Joining Forces" initiative to aid troops, veterans and military families.

McChrystal's remarks were possibly more blunt than those of other retired military officers who have been critical of Trump since Mattis announced his resignation, but Trump also has his defenders in the retired ranks.

Under the headline "We Succeeded in Syria. Now It's Time To Leave," retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, now an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, wrote that "We face larger existential threats to our nation in the form of a resurgent Russia, expanding Chinese interference and the continued threat from North Korea."

"These threats to our nation are clear, while protracted wars of the Middle East are a drain on our national blood and treasure," Kellogg wrote.

Kellogg, who backed Trump during his campaign for the presidency, was considered to be on the short list as a possible Defense Secretary before Trump nominated Mattis.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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