When the commander-in-chief is "unfit," what’s a general to do?

“If we have someone who is as selfless and committed as Jim Mattis resigning 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, ‘Okay, why did he do it?’” said retired General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and a Special Forces pioneer who was behind the 2006 killing of arch terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Speaking to ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, McChrystal suggested that “we ought to ask what kind of commander-in-chief he had that Jim Mattis, ‘the good Marine,’ felt he had to walk away.”

In the interview, McChrystal left no doubt that he believes the commander Mattis walked away from is not only fundamentally dishonest, but also “immoral.” That assessment provides a “pretty good summary of what most generals think about the President’s character,” Admiral James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO, wrote recently in Time Magazine. Stavridis attributes the exodus of Mattis and the other generals in Trump’s inner circle to the president’s chronic lack of discipline, indifference towards preparation and expert opinion, impulsive decision-making even on matters of great consequence, and instinctively dismissive attitude towards allies.

“I think Secretary Mattis clearly felt that Trump’s attitude toward our allies hurt the U.S. position in the world, but the Syria pullout–done without benefit of a coherent interagency process–was the final straw,” Stavridis wrote me in an email.

Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling formerly commanded the U.S. Army Europe, and he was an assistant division commander in Iraq. “I was not really surprised by Mattis’ resignation, because I had been wondering what was taking him so long given how frequently Trump was walking his top advisers to the edge in terms of ethics and morality,” he said in an interview. “What worries me now is that Trump has created an absolutely toxic leadership environment that has driven good people like Mattis away, and the replacements and those who remain have shown no courage nor inclination to push back against the president’s worst impulses. Instead Trump has created a cabal of like-minded people who share his worldview and are loyal only to him, and I am very concerned how that dynamic will play out if the administration confronts a real crisis not of its own making.”

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