Former Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday responded to President Donald Trump’s reported criticisms of his record by jabbing the president at a dinner where the speeches blend comedy with barbs.
Media outlets reported this week that during a White House meeting with top Democrats, Trump criticized Mattis. Axios, for example, cited an unnamed Democratic source as saying Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general.”
According to The New York Times, Trump said Mattis “wasn’t tough enough.”
“I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month,” Trump reportedly said.
Mattis resigned from the Trump administration last year, citing policy differences with the president.
Since his resignation, he has largely avoided commenting on Trump, or at least publicly criticizing him.
That reticence ended Thursday, when Mattis spoke at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City.
“I’m not just an overrated general,” Mattis said. I am the greatest — the world’s most overrated.”
“I’m honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” Mattis said. “So, I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals, and frankly that sounds pretty good to me.”
“And, you do have to admit, between me and Meryl, at least we’ve had some victories,” he added.
Mattis added two more jabs at Trump.
“Some of you were kind to me during the reception and asked me if this bothered me to have been rated this way based on what Donald Trump said,” Mattis said.
“Of course not. I earned my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out,” Mattis added, referring to comedian Martin Short, who served as the master of ceremonies for the dinner.
“Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” Mattis said, referring to a medical deferment granted to Trump that meant he did not have to serve in the Vietnam War.
Mattis also made fun of Trump’s well-publicized enjoyment of fast food.
“The only person in the military Mr. Trump does not feel is overrated,” Mattis said, according to The Times. “That’s Colonel Sanders.”
Some were upset that Mattis used an occasion where comedy was king to criticize Trump instead of attacking the president more directly.
“I know he’s 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. After indefensible silence, this will surely undercut the gravity of any future words he might have on the subject,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Susan Hennessey tweeted.
I know he’s 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. After indefensible silence, this will surely undercut the gravity of any future words he might have on the subject. https://t.co/BvV8iw8WYM
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) October 18, 2019
“I don’t think anyone should be chuckling at Mattis’s brush off of Trump’s insult. It’s his facile way of dodging the reality that he knows a lot about what happened in this White House, including what are now obviously impeachable acts directly related to his time as SECDEF,” Thomas M. Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College, tweeted.
I don’t think anyone should be chuckling at Mattis’s brush off of Trump’s insult. It’s his facile way of dodging the reality that he knows a lot about what happened in this White House, including what are now obviously impeachable acts directly related to his time as SECDEF.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) October 18, 2019
Mattis on Thursday night also addressed the nation’s political ills.
“For decades, our political conduct has been woeful and a source of national paralysis,” he said.
“We have supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt. We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right. We proclaim what divides us and seldom even acknowledge what unites us. Meanwhile, the roster of urgent national issues [has] continued to grow,” he said.
Mattis said “paralysis” was “approaching the level of crisis even before the specter of impeachment arose.”
Mattis called for a return to America’s core principles to set the country on its proper course.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.