Stanley McChrystal has a history of speaking plainly about American presidents and their leadership. His military career ended in 2010 after a Rolling Stone profile quoted him and his aides as criticizing Obama-administration officials, mocking the civilian leaders and painting them as indecisive. McChrystal quickly offered his resignation, which President Barack Obama accepted.
But while the retired four-star Army general’s complaints about the Obama administration centered on its military strategy, his concerns about the current White House, which he articulated in an ABC News interview on Sunday, are rooted in President Donald Trump’s character. McChrystal has criticized the president before, but his remarks on Sunday were timely, given the departure of James Mattis, the defense secretary who previously served as a Marine Corps general, and Trump’s recent war of words with another former military leader.
McChrystal, whom Obama had selected to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in the interview that he would not work for Trump. “I think it’s important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it,” McChrystal explained.
“Do you think he’s a liar?” asked Martha Raddatz, the co-host of ABC’s This Week.
McChrystal raised his eyebrows, shook his head, and responded, “I don’t think he tells the truth.” When Raddatz asked whether McChrystal considers the president “immoral,” the former general replied, “I think he is.”
McChrystal’s comments came about 10 days after Trump’s announcement via Twitter that he’s planning to withdraw 2,200 U.S. troops from Syria. The abrupt decision prompted Mattis’s resignation with a public letter, in which the former general cited differences between himself and the president over “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors.” In the interview, McChrystal told Raddatz he hopes Mattis’s exit has caused the American public to “take a pause.”
“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?’” McChrystal said. “We ought to ask what kind of commander in chief he had that Jim Mattis, ‘the good Marine,’ felt he had to walk away.”
McChrystal also echoed recent criticism of Trump’s holiday visit to troops serving in Iraq. During the stop, his first trip to a combat zone since he assumed office in early 2017, Trump made a campaign-style speech in which he talked up his plans for expanding the border wall and disparaged his political opponents, claiming that “Democrats don’t want to let us have strong borders.”
“When leaders visit soldiers … there’s a sacred interaction that occurs,” McChrystal said. “You don’t use that as a time to tout your politics or your personal opinions. You use that as a time to reassure them that what they’re doing is appreciated.” He also chided service members who brought Trump paraphernalia to the event—including “Make America Great Again” hats and a Trump 2020 patch—saying that they at least “violated the spirit” of military rules against political activity while serving on active duty.
McChrystal is not the only ex-military leader to recently rebuke Trump. William McRaven, the retired admiral who oversaw special operations—including the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed—criticized the president for attacking the media and pulling the security clearance of a former CIA chief who spoke out against him. In an interview last month, Trump dismissed McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and questioned why it took nearly a decade to find bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. McChrystal sprang to McRaven’s defense the next day, calling the president “simply wrong” and “uninformed.”
Trump didn’t immediately counterattack after McChrystal’s criticism. But as the interview was airing on ABC, the president did tweet about an Associated Press poll that found he has higher approval ratings among troops and veterans than he does among citizens who have not served in the military. Overall, 56 percent of veterans said they approve of Trump’s job as president, compared with 42 percent of nonveterans.
Given how the president loves to spar, it’s possible a volley is still on the way. He has fodder to dismiss McChrystal as just another spiteful Democrat: In the fateful profile that cut the general’s career short, Rolling Stone reported that he voted for Obama in 2008.