One striking image shows the Marine Corps generals who left the Trump administration, after the president praised their service

By David Choi

Before becoming president, Donald Trump described his future cabinet the same way he characterized his business acumen: "I'm going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people," he said to The Washington Post in 2015, two years before his inauguration. "We want top of the line professionals."

Shortly after being sworn in, Trump boasted that his generals "were going to keep us so safe."

But during his presidency, Trump's generals have slowly fell by the wayside, many of them resigning because their views were not "aligned" with his. The tepid resignation letters from these high-profile military officials evolved into a more pronounced denunciation, with some being outspoken in their opposition against Trump's policies.

Many of these former officials are Marines who served with distinction throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The photo above, taken in 2013, marked the first time six four-star Marines Corps generals were actively serving in the Marine Corps.

  • Jim Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, announced his resignation in December 2018. His departure was accelerated after Trump announced his acting replacement, Patrick Shanahan, was set to take over. Mattis was a four-star general who once led the US Central Command and was celebrated as a top choice to lead the US military. He cited disagreements with Trump's policies as the reason for his decision to resign from the Defense Department. Mattis later went on to poke fun at Trump in a light-hearted speech: "I earned my spurs on the battlefield ... And Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor."
  • On June 3, 2020, Mattis penned an opinion column published in The Atlantic, making it clear he was not pleased with the Trump administration. His op-ed comes nearly a week after protests were held around the country following the death of George Floyd, and Trump's demand for state governor's to "dominate" the streets: "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort."
  • John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, was a four-star Marine Corps general who once led the US Southern Command. He served as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security before being selected by Trump to regulate his day-to-day schedule. Kelly had been expected to bring order to a chaotic West Wing but faced headwinds, at times clashing with Trump. Kelly went on to describe Trump's intervention in a military court proceeding as "exactly the wrong thing to do."
  • Joseph Dunford, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously served as the commandant of the Marine Corps and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. His term as the top commander of the US military ended September. Trump selected US Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley as his replacement. In August, Dunford said the military was experiencing a "politically turbulent time" during his tenure, but added that he "will not now, nor will I when I take off the uniform, make judgments about the president of the United States or the commander in chief."
  • Both of Dunford's predecessors, US Army Gen. Martin Dempsey and US Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, have either outright criticized Trump or indicated disagreements with his policy. On June 2, 2020, an op-ed titled, "I Cannot Remain Silent" was published by Mullen. In it, he wrote, "I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump's leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent."
  • John Allen, the former commander of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, did not serve in the Trump administration. Instead, he was an outspoken critic of Trump throughout his campaign and presidency. During a speech at the Democratic National Convention, in 2016, Allen endorsed Hillary Clinton and likened Trump's presidency to a "business transaction" that conducts "illegal activities." Trump fired back at Allen through a tweet and said his fight against ISIS "failed badly."

Donald Trump H.R. McMaster
US Army Gen. H.R. McMaster and Trump.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In addition to the Marines who left the Trump administration, a three-star Army general, H.R. McMaster, was fired as Trump's national-security adviser in 2018. His tenure was marked by numerous reports of disagreements with Trump, who once described him as "a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience."

McMaster replaced another US Army three-star general as national-security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after it was discovered he lied to the FBI and senior White House officials about his communications with Russian officials.

Richard spencer trump
Trump with Richard Spencer at the White House, July 16, 2019.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A senior official, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, was also fired after his apparent disagreement with Trump. Spencer, who was a Marine Corps pilot in the 1970s, was forced to resign after Trump barred the Navy SEALs from a review of a SEAL tried for war crimes.

Trump overturned a decision to demote Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher, who was convicted of posing with the corpse of a dead detainee. The lesser charge was one of seven total charges against Gallagher, including premeditated murder of an ISIS detainee.

After Gallagher was acquitted of the most serious charges, the head of the Navy SEALs decided to move forward with a review of whether Gallagher's actions were in keeping with SEAL standards. Spencer supported the review. Trump blocked it and Spencer was forced out. The Navy SEAL admiral who ordered it also is resigning.

"I don't think he really understands the full definition of a warfighter," Spencer described Trump in a CBS News interview. "A warfighter is a profession of arms. And a profession of arms has standards that they have to be held to, and they hold themselves to."

"What message does that send to the troops," Spencer added. "That you can get away with things. We have to have good order and discipline."