October 21, 2017

“If You’ve Never Been in Combat, You Can’t Even Imagine”

Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly gave a remarkable performance at Thursday’s White House press briefing, deploying his record of service and sacrifice to defend President Trump’s clumsy handling of condolences to the families of four U.S. Army soldiers killed in Niger. Any mistakes by Trump, Kelly said, resulted from advice the erstwhile general had given his boss, with their colloquy including once-private stories about how the Kelly family had received news of their son’s combat death in Afghanistan.

Political aides frequently defend their bosses; some even put their reputations on the line to do so. What made Kelly’s remarks so noteworthy—and powerful, too—was that he mortgaged both his reputation and that of the entire U.S. military to defend Trump. “If you’re not in the family, if you’ve never worn the uniform, if you’ve never been in combat, you can’t even imagine how to make that call,” said Kelly, defending Trump’s remarks to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson and suggesting it might be unpatriotic to question the actions of the military or its commander in chief. Indeed, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders followed Kelly’s lead on Friday, asserting that any critique of Kelly was inappropriate because of his stature as a retired Marine general.

Read the full op-ed in Slate.

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