US President Donald Trump trying to ‘divide’ America: former Pentagon chief

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” former Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, said in stinging rebuke to the president. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 04 June 2020

US President Donald Trump trying to ‘divide’ America: former Pentagon chief

  • ‘Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try’

WASHINGTON: Former Pentagon chief James Mattis issued a stinging rebuke of his erstwhile boss Donald Trump on Wednesday, 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,” added the retired Marine general, who had previously argued it would be inappropriate for him to criticize 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 on American citizens 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 agonizing death was filmed by bystanders.
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.”
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 damaged church, calling it an “abuse of executive authority.”
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 stated.
“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 dismissed Mattis with a tweet, rehashing his claim that he “essentially” fired his Pentagon chief.
“Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” the president wrote.
Mattis was head of US Central Command when Obama fired him in 2013 over his hawkish views on Iran.
For months after Mattis resigned, he refused to criticize Trump publicly, insisting the military must remain apolitical.
Wednesday’s statement appeared to signaled he no longer felt bound by that sentiment, as he called for solidarity — with or without the president.
“We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society,” Mattis wrote.
Retired Marine Corps General John Allen echoed Mattis’ criticism of Trump after his speech threatening to deploy the US military against American citizens.
“To even the casual observer, Monday was awful for the United States and its democracy,” the former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan wrote in Foreign Policy.
“The president’s speech was calculated to project his abject and arbitrary power, but he failed to project any of the higher emotions or leadership desperately needed in every quarter of this nation during this dire moment.”
Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, also took aim at the president’s church photo-op.
“Donald Trump isn’t religious, has no need of religion, and doesn’t care about the devout, except insofar as they serve his political needs,” he wrote.


Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

Updated 3 min 15 sec ago

Tech-savvy Indonesians go off-grid to help to remote villages fight virus

  • Young volunteers tackle tough terrain, pandemic myths in isolated northern region

JAKARTA: A group of tech-savvy young locals in Indonesia’s northern North Halmahera regency is spreading awareness about the dangers of COVID-19 in remote corners of the archipelago at a time when bureaucracy has impeded a rapid response to the pandemic.

The Relawan Merah Putih, or Red and White Volunteers, includes a multimedia expert, university students, lecturers, civil servants and a web developer in Tobelo, the main city of North Halmahera in North Maluku province, about 2,500 km from the capital Jakarta.

The city is located on Halmahera island, part of the Maluku Islands, Indonesia’s fabled Spice Islands on the northeastern part of the sprawling archipelago.

Stevie Recaldo Karimang, a 28-year-old freelance photographer and videographer, told Arab News that he set up the group after social restrictions introduced to counter the pandemic put him out of business. 

He quickly developed a website on the pandemic and created online flyers and audiovisual materials that he and 31 other volunteers distributed on social media platforms and messaging apps to educate the public about the pandemic soon after the first cases in Indonesia were confirmed in Jakarta in early March.

“We translated the information we took from the national COVID-19 task force into the market language spoken here, which is a mixture of Indonesian and the local dialect, to make it more understandable for the locals,” Karimang said.

The group also used a drone to issue public warnings against mass gatherings.

“The drone helped to remind people not to form a crowd when social restrictions were enforced. We attached a flashlight to the device to catch the crowd’s attention, and we were able to dismiss such gatherings.”

But the volunteers shifted their efforts to rural areas after the first coronavirus case in North Maluku province was confirmed on March 23.

Jubhar Mangimbulude, a microbiology expert at Halmahera University and the group’s adviser, said the team had visited 30 isolated villages out of 196 townships in the regency, which is home to 161 million people.

“We reached one village after hours of driving over rough terrain. We have to use four-wheel-drive vehicles because along the way we may have to cross a river where the bridge is damaged,” he told Arab News.

Mangimbulude said that many villagers were unaware of the pandemic and only knew from TV that a dangerous virus was spreading quickly and infecting people. He was glad to find that no COVID-19 cases had been detected among the villagers.

But he acknowledged that misinformation was rife and said that he had to debunk myths about “how alcohol could be used to prevent the disease.”

“The villagers heard that the virus can be killed with heat in one’s body, and since drinking alcohol can warm the body, they encouraged their children and elders to drink a local alcoholic beverage made of fermented sugar palm fruit,” Mangimbulude said.

Fellow volunteer Oscar Berthomene, a local civil servant, said that the group was able to move faster than the regency administration whose bureaucracy slowed down the response to the pandemic.

“I have support from my supervisor, and we were able to help their activities with cars to allow them to move around,” he told Arab News.

The regency has about 18 percent of the 953 cases in the province, which make up about 1.5 percent of the national total of 62,142 as of Saturday.