Katie Bo Williams / DefenseOne
(September 8, 2020) — Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville on Tuesday pushed back on President Trump’s assertion that Pentagon leaders go to war to please arms manufacturers.
“I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required for national security and a last resort,” McConville said during an interview with Defense One online. “We take this very, very seriously how we make our recommendations.”
“I feel strongly about that,” he said.
McConville was careful to say that he was not responding to Trump’s claim, made to White House reporters on Monday, that “the top people in the Pentagon” don’t like him “because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”But asked directly whether Trump’s characterization was accurate, McConville said that “many” of the senior leaders in the US military have sons and daughters in uniform.
“When I take a look at the senior leaders in the United States military, many of these leaders have sons and daughters that served in the military,” he said. “Many of these leaders have sons and daughters who have gone to combat who may be in combat right now.”
Trump has repeatedly sought to withdraw US troops from conflict zones and permanent stations overseas, arguing that Americans are tired of “endless” wars. Critics — including some within the Pentagon — see the withdrawals as rash and damaging to US alliances and standing around the world.
Although Trump has drawn down forces in Syria and Afghanistan, in others places US troop levels have remained relatively stable. As the weeks wind down the 2020 election, the president has pushed for or ordered further withdrawals, from Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and elsewhere, in an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise to end the so-called “forever” wars.
At times, the president has been foiled by his own Pentagon. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stymied early attempts at a complete withdrawal from Syria during Trump’s first two years in office; he ultimately resigned over the issue.
“Some people don’t like to come home, some people like to continue to spend money. One cold-hearted globalist betrayal after another, that’s what it was,” Trump said Monday.
Right-wing allies such as commentator Mike Cernovich have praised Trump as bravely taking on the “military-industrial complex” that President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against.
The remarks — and McConville’s response — come at a moment when Trump’s relationship to the military is under intense scrutiny. The Atlantic in a bombshell story last week reported that Trump disparaged US service members as “losers” and “suckers,” and made dismissive remarks while standing near the grave of Gen. John Kelly’s son during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery.
Trump on Monday vehemently denied the allegations, saying “only an animal would say a thing like that.” He claimed that “the soldiers” are “in love with me,” but not the Pentagon’s top brass.
A recent Military Times poll found that Trump’s support among active-duty service members has fallen over the past year, with more respondents holding an unfavorable view of their commander in chief (49.9 percent) than a favorable one (38 percent).
McConville also provided the first on-the-record confirmation that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has spoken to his Russian counterpart about a spate of provocative actions taken by the Russian military against US forces, in Syria and elsewhere. Although Trump has largely kept silent on the matter, McConville said Milley “made it very, very clear about the concerns he has about these interactions.”
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