Army Chief disputes Trump claim that military leaders want to fight wars

Army chief of staff Gen. James McConville pushed back Tuesday on the assertion  – most recently voiced by President Donald Trump – that the military’s senior leaders are eager to fight wars because doing so benefits defense contractors.

“Many of these leaders have sons and daughters that serve in the military,” McConville said, in reference to the military’s flag officers and senior enlisted advisers. “Many of these leaders have sons and daughters that have gone to combat and may be in combat right now. I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required for national security and in a last resort.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 03, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 03, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The four-star general did not reference the president, but made the comments during an online interview hosted by Defense One, when asked whether the brass was beholden to defense contractors, a claim made by the president the prior day.

Soldiers are “in love with me,” Trump told reporters Monday. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing to fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

McConville demurred when first asked for his reaction to Trump’s remarks. “I’m not going to comment on really the president’s comments or really any of the politicians’ comments,” he said. “We live in a political environment but we’re an apolitical organization, and I think it really must remain that way, especially with an election coming up.”

But when the interviewer asked again, this time without mentioning Trump, McConville answered more expansively, seemingly keen to dispel any notion that the military’s most senior officers played fast and loose with the lives of their troops. “We take this very, very seriously,” he said. “I feel strongly about that.”

Trump’s statement that the troops are “in love” with him runs counter to the results of a recent Military Times poll of servicemembers, which showed that more troops intend to vote for Democratic challenger former Vice President Joe Biden than plan to vote to re-elect the president. About half (49.9 percent) of the respondents had an unfavorable view of Trump, compared with 38 percent who had a favorable view, according to the poll.

US President Donald Trump speaks on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Jupiter, Florida on September 8, 2020. (Madel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Jupiter, Florida on September 8, 2020. (Madel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The president’s relationship with the military has been under intense scrutiny since a bombshell article The Atlantic, which reported that Trump called American troops who died “losers.” The president and his allies have since pushed back on those claims, which several other news outlets confirmed based on their own reporting.

During the discussion Tuesday, McConville also touched on the domestic use of military forces, another hotly disputed under President Trump. Active duty soldiers should be considered “a last resort” to help police social unrest, when the task is beyond the capabilities of local authorities and the National Guard, according to McConville.

 “The job of the American military is to protect the nation, not to police the nation,” he said. “That’s why we have police officers, that’s why we have law enforcement.

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