The usually smug Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemingly missed her chance Friday when she remarked "If you wanna go after General Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think that — if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate." She could have said "if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, go at it" or the trite "... go ahead, make my (our) day."
Nonetheless, the White House spokesperson's comment enhanced President Trump's strategy because it was in complete harmony with that made by the four-star Marine general, John V. Kelly. In the portion of the chief of staff's statement which was neither dishonest nor hostile toward a member of Congress, Kelly maintained
Well, let me tell you what I told him. Let me tell you what my best friend, Joe Dunford, told me -- because he was my casualty officer. He said, Kel, he was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he was killed. He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1 percent. He knew what the possibilities were because we're at war. And when he died, in the four cases we're talking about, Niger, and my son's case in Afghanistan -- when he died, he was surrounded by the best men on this Earth: his friends.....
Gold Star families, I think that left in the convention over the summer. But I just thought -- the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that that might be sacred.
And when I listened to this woman and what she was saying, and what she was doing on TV, the only thing I could do to collect my thoughts was to go and walk among the finest men and women on this Earth. And you can always find them because they're in Arlington National Cemetery. I went over there for an hour-and-a-half, walked among the stones, some of whom I put there because they were doing what I told them to do when they were killed.
"The finest men and women on this Earth." Kelly could have legitimately described them as "the most courageous men and women in the nation," given that they were Americns who risked their lives. But that doesn't necessarily make them the finest people, and "the Earth" is a very big place indeed (unrelated video on same controversy, below).
Nonetheless, the assertion was fundamental to Kelly's central argument, akin to Sanders': We wear the uniform of the United States of America- you don't. It was Kelly's way of reminding us not only that he was the commanding officer of "the very best this country produces" but that he is a general, hence: criticize at your own risk.
Kelly finished his short speech telling reporters "you get the question" if, and only if, the he or she was a Gold Star parent or sibling, or knows one. Masha Gessen identified this as "a new twist on the Trump Administration's technique of shunning and shaming unfriendly members of the news media, except this time, it was framed explicitly in terms of national loyalty."
That makes it, in Sanders' terms, "highly inappropriate" to enter a "debate with a four-star Marine general." The chief of staff was not so blunt and crude as the presidential spokesperson, but was expressing the same sentiment. Given "a troika of generals being regularly applauded as the only thing standing between all of us and the abyss," we now have learned we are in serious jeopardy.