WASHINGTON: Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis issued a stinging rebuke of his erstwhile boss Donald Trump on Wednesday (Jun 3), accusing the president of trying to "divide" America and failing to provide "mature leadership" as the country reels from days of protests.
Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 over Trump's ordering of a full troop withdrawal from Syria, also voiced support for the demonstrators whose anti-racism rallies have roiled the country.
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people - does not even pretend to try," Mattis wrote in a blistering statement posted online by The Atlantic.
"Instead, he tries to divide us," continues the retired Marine general, who had previously argued it would be inappropriate for him to criticise a sitting president.
"We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership," he stated.
Mattis described himself as "angry and appalled" after witnessing events of the last week, which saw Trump threaten a military crackdown as nationwide protests turned violent in some cities.
The fury was ignited by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man who suffocated beneath the knee of a white police officer, and whose agonising death was filmed by bystanders in footage that swiftly went viral.
The demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, but some have degenerated into violence and looting as night falls.
Mattis wrote that the protesters' call for equal justice was a "wholesome and unifying demand - one that all of us should be able to get behind."
And he slammed the decision to use force to clear peaceful protesters from near the White House on Monday to allow Trump to pose for photographs at a nearby church.
The photo op has become a lightning rod for criticism of Trump's handling of the crisis, with religious leaders, politicians, and onlookers around the country expressing outrage.
"When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution," Mattis states.
"Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens - much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside."
Trump has come under fire over his use of force to break up a peaceful rally, as unrest hit dozens of cities across the United States.
Reports of Trump taking shelter sparked a wave of online mockery, which is believed to have contributed to his decision on Monday to make a controversial walk across Lafayette Park to visit the partly damaged church of St John's.
Trump on Monday adopted a martial tone in a nationwide address he delivered just before the church visit, in which he threatened a military crackdown after the biggest civil unrest in decades.
To deploy the armed forces, Trump would need to formally invoke a group of statutes known as the Insurrection Act. It permits the president to send in US forces to suppress a domestic insurrection that has hindered the normal enforcement of US law.