Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has rebuked President Donald Trump’s threats to use the military on protesters, writing that “our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.”
“Even in the midst of the carnage we are witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods,” Mullen wrote in an op-ed for The Atlantic published Tuesday. “They are not ‘battle spaces’ to be dominated, and must never become so.”
His comments come after Trump declared himself “your president of law and order” Monday evening and vowed to return order to American streets using the military if widespread violence isn’t quelled.
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden.
The threat followed nearly a week of protests across the country that at times have turned violent over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who died at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis.
“We must, as citizens, address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community. We must, as citizens, support and defend the right—indeed, the solemn obligation—to peacefully assemble and to be heard. These are not mutually exclusive pursuits,” Mullen wrote.
“And neither of these pursuits will be made easier or safer by an overly aggressive use of our military, active duty or National Guard,” he continued.
“The United States has a long and, to be fair, sometimes troubled history of using the armed forces to enforce domestic laws. The issue for us today is not whether this authority exists, but whether it will be wisely administered.”
Peaceful protesters just outside the White House gates were dispersed with gas just before Trump’s speech on Monday, with police also using flash bangs and rubber bullets, apparently so Trump could visit a nearby church.
He remained at the boarded-up building for a matter of minutes before returning inside the White House.
Mullen wrote that the episode “sickened” him and that Trump’s response to the nationwide protests has brought the US to “an inflection point.”
“Too many foreign and domestic policy choices have become militarized; too many military missions have become politicized,” he said.
“This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership.”