Ex-defence secretary responds to US president calling him the worlds most overrated general
Donald Trumps first defense secretary, Gen James Mattis, has finally spoken out in public over his former boss, depicting the president as a lazy draft dodger but only in the form of jokes.
Mattis took advantage of appearing at a black-tie dinner in New York on Thursday to roast Trump, unleashing clearly pent-up criticisms since he resigned from his post in protest last December.
He delivered a stream of one-liners that poked fun at the amount of time Trump spends on the golf course and at his avoidance of military service in Vietnam because of bone spurs in his feet.
I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor, Mattis said.
In another zap he said: A year according to White House time is about 9,000 hours of executive time, or 1,800 holes of golf.
Mattis also compared himself to Meryl Streep in that they both had been denigrated by Trump as overrated. The president denounced Mattis as the most overrated general when he met members of Congress on Wednesday to discuss his recent controversial decision to pull US troops out of Syria.
Im honored to be called that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress, Mattis said on Thursday night. So I guess Im the Meryl Streep of generals.
Mattiss takedown of his former boss within the protected space of a roasting at first generated laughter among his audience and on social media.
But it quickly turned to criticism of the general, who has studiously refused to say anything in public against Trump despite having been scathing about his approach to malign actors and strategic competitors around the world in his resignation letter.
Several pundits expressed regret on Twitter that Mattiss first speech about Trump and his policy was in the form of gags.
The political scientist Ian Bremmer said: In terms of how much airtime Mattis is getting compared to what hes actually willing to say, he is the most overrated general.
Susan Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank, said: I know hes speaking at a dinner meant for jokes, but this is just an absurd and undignified way for Mattis to make his first public critiques of the president.
It remains to be seen whether Mattiss jokes are the extent of his willingness to speak out about the chaotic foreign policy that he has left behind. In a recent interview with the Atlantic he said he felt duty bound to remain silent after office, but he hinted that period had limits.
Its not eternal. Its not going to be forever.
Mattis had also joked that he took the Trump insult as a compliment.
Im not just an overrated general. Im the greatest, the worlds most overrated, he told diners at the annual Alfred E Smith Memorial Foundation dinner.
Trump had lashed out at his former defence secretary on Wednesday during a contentious White House meeting with members of Congress.
The meeting was intended to be a bipartisan discussion of Trumps decision to pull US forces from northern Syria, but it broke up after a testy exchange between Trump and Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker.
Before the walkout, Trump disparaged Mattis, who had argued as defence secretary that US troops were needed in Syria to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State fighters.
Trump said Mattis was the worlds most overrated general. You know why? He wasnt tough enough.
I captured Isis, Trump went on to say, referring to the Islamic State insurgency group.
Mattis resigned after Trump first signaled he would pull US troops out of Syria, which he abruptly acted on earlier this month.
On a serious note, Mattis alluded on Thursday to his opposition to Trumps decision.
We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies, Mattis said.