Umberg: We Depend on Our Military to Speak Truth to Power

President Trump has transitioned from a “fact free” campaign to an “alternative fact” presidency. Hardly a day goes by when the fact checkers aren’t all a twitter. When it comes to holding him accountable, the military is in a unique position to do so. It not only is respected by the American public but, notwithstanding his derisive comments about the military during his campaign, by President Trump. Senior military officers such as recently appointed National Security Advisor LTG H.R. McMaster and retired General James Mattis, are perhaps best capable of speaking truth to power.

Many of President Trump’s prevarications are gratuitous; for example the size of his inauguration crowd and his Electoral College victory. They merely undermine his personal credibility. Some, however, can undermine processes and institutions that are critical to a functioning democracy; the false assertion of “3-5 million illegal votes;” “the media is the enemy of the American people;” a judge of Hispanic decent can’t be objective. Lies by previous presidents have cost thousands of lives; for example – weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the Gulf of Tonkin incident in Vietnam. It is likely that President Trump will be confronted with a decision that will put lives in harm’s way, and where the truth conflicts with his world view or popularity. That’s when the moral courage of those who know the true facts will be tested.

LTG McMaster wrote Dereliction of Duty 20 years ago about the Vietnam War and those leaders, particularly senior military officers, who shirked their duty by failing to tell the President hard truths and resigning rather than carry out a policy they knew was flawed. Dereliction of Duty is on the Marine Corps required reading list for officers. Taking a page out of LTG McMaster’s book and contrary to the commander-in-chief’s comments, retired Marine General – now Secretary of Defense — James Mattis has spoken out against torture as an effective intelligence gathering tool; in strong support of NATO as an essential element of US national security; and against the recklessness of suggesting that the U.S. should “take the Iraqi oil.”

As military officers are aware, speaking truth to power can come at a risk – even when they turn out to be right. Army Chief of Staff Gen Eric Shinseki was essentially fired for correctly testifying that an invasion and sustainment force in Iraq would be far higher than the Bush Administration was forecasting at the time. Secretary of Defense Mattis has set an example perfectly consistent with a military officer’s duty to speak the truth and do what’s right even when the person they disagree with is the president. Other senior officers likely will face similar tests under President Trump. If they are true to their code of conduct, they will adhere to the oath they took to the U.S. Constitution as young lieutenants and ensigns over fealty the commander-in-chief – and we will all be the safer for it.



Thomas J. Umberg is a retired Army Colonel who served three overseas tours, including Afghanistan, and is now a partner at the Umberg/Zipser LLP in Irvine, California.


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  • David Zenger

    “If they are true to their code of conduct, they will adhere to the oath they took to the U.S. Constitution as young lieutenants and ensigns over fealty the commander-in-chief – and we will all be the safer for it.”

    And that statement is so peculiar that it needs to be explained by Mr. Code of Conduct. Our Constitution explicitly puts the military under ultimate civilian control – in the person of the elected Commander-in-Chief. It’s too bad if you don’t like who the president happens to be.

  • Bob Brock

    God help us all if this is Umberg testing the Orange County political waters for a re-entry. A Trump-bashing piece might make him and his far left wing supporters feel good, but it has nothing to do with Orange County. And I won’t even touch the irony of Umberg concluding his column with a nod to codes of conduct and oaths.

    • David Zenger

      “And I won’t even touch the irony of Umberg concluding his column with a nod to codes of conduct and oaths.”

      Yes, pretty ironic. What a moral exemplar.

      • justanon

        Wow, the “irony” (or is it “rank hypocrisy”?) of conservatives criticizing Umberg for his relatively insignificant transgressions (wow, ran and lost for a county BOS spot) while ignoring the same in our new POTUS.

        All the things you want to criticize and chastise Umberg for, trump has done on steroids and is now the most powerful person in the world. You great moral exemplars are more upset by the pointing out of the lies than the lies themselves.

        Typical partisan Republican … hypocrites.

  • verifiedsane

    Another standard liberal attack piece…these kinds of opinion rants are like toilets; best when flushed regularly…

    • justanon

      You obviously didn’t read the article.

      Nope, you were too eager to spew your nonsense and nastiness to take the time to actually read and address Mr. Umberg’s well founded points.

      Of course, how does a trump supporter defend trump’s constant and habitual lying and the danger’s that behavior portends?

  • David Zenger

    “a judge of Hispanic decent”

    Proof reader?

    • justanon

      Petty, but I guess you have nothing else to offer.

      • David Zenger

        Yes I do, but I didn’t care to address Mr. Umberg’s own record of “prevarication.”

        Shall I continue?

        • justanon

          Oh, please do, I can never get enough of your holier-than-thou commentary.

          • David Zenger

            Oh, okay.

            But remember, I’m not the one one who wrote an opinion piece codes of honor and truthfulness.

            Cheated on wife. Busted.
            Lied about service at Guantanamo. Busted.
            Lied about address in Santa Ana to run for Board of Supervisors. Busted.

            I won’t even bother to explore into Umberg’s willingness to participate in the biggest ripoff in California in 145 years – high speed rail, that started out as a giant lie as a ballot proposition and has been garnished with lie after lie ever since. He uses that now to adorn his law-firm resumé.

            And low a lecturer on the Democrat Morality Circuit. How funny.

          • justanon

            So, if the messenger isn’t pure enough just disregard the message?

            How very convenient for the right-wingers on this blog.

            Funny, none of you have challenged the very real and verifiable facts in Umberg’s op-ed that we have a POTUS who is a habitual liar. Our so-called president lies constantly, about things big and small and it is DANGEROUS for the country.

            But continue on, focusing on the ‘big picture’ like spelling mistakes and 10 year old minor scandals.

            Like I said before, that’s all you’ve got to offer … pettiness.

          • David Zenger

            Glad to see to see you brush off marital infidelity, lying to the public, and rank hypocrisy, you know, petty stuff, “minor” scandals.

            A rather typical partisan Democrat mind-set, in fact.

            Fortunately for everybody, Umberg’s got no political future unless he miraculously discovers some “decent” Hispanics a-way back on his mom’s side of the family tree.

            Then it will be back to that fake address in a nice, gringo neighborhood of Santa Ana.

          • justanon

            “Glad to see to see you brush off marital infidelity, lying to the public, and rank hypocrisy, you know, petty stuff, “minor” scandals.’

            Ha, ha, ha! Those are all things the GOP embraced with trump EXCEPT now he’s POTUS.

            Great sense of perspective you got there pal, lol.

        • LFOldTimer

          Yeah, he has a long history, David. Fer sure.

          These op-ed’s raise an eyebrow. Is he trying to squirm his way back into politics?

          I hope not.

          • David Zenger

            I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. Central and northern OC are solidly Democrat. Maybe he wants to do a Daly when Daly runs for BoS in 2018. Umberg could carpetbag the 69th as the Dempublican.

  • LFOldTimer

    OMG. Another liberal Trump-hater! ha. Take what he says with a tablespoon of salt.

    Hey Tom – did you ever write an op-ed that complained about Obama attacking ME nations without any legal authorization to do so?

    Do you know that Obama dropped over 26,000 bombs in 7 different ME nations – several of which we had NO LEGAL AUTHORIZATIONS to do military fly-overs, which killed thousands of innocent civilians? Those men, women and children bleed the same color blood as we do, Tom!!!

    Write an op-ed on that in your spare time. Tell us about the multiple times that Obama violated the US Constitution and international war treaties!!! ha.

    Partisanship is evil.

    • justanon

      Again, do you trump supporters ever bother to READ the articles you’re disparaging BEFORE you dismiss them?

      Obviously LF never does, just his usual reflexive deflection when it comes to trump, which is blame Obama for something or crow about trump’s win over Hillary.

      Our so-called president is a constant and habitual liar on things big and small. Leading people to wonder whether our so-called president is tethered to reality. Does trump himself really believe his own lies or is he trying to alter and/or confuse the truth? Either way, Mr. Umberg is correct, this is very dangerous for the country.

      Address your comments to that, LF.

      • LFOldTimer

        I absolutely read the op-ed.

        It was another diatribe of negativity on Trump.

        But I have never read an op-ed by Umberg that berated Obama or any other democrat.

        Oh, I forgot. Umberg has a long history of being a liberal democrat as a politician.

        I can’t stand blind partisanship. It’s killing the country.

        • justanon

          More deflection.

          Our so-called president is a habitual liar and even you, in your complete “blind partisanship” can’t defend it.

          You’ve been bamboozled by a sick, lying, con man, the sooner you realize and admit it, the sooner you can stop covering yourself in BS.

          Join reality, trust me, in the end it will be less painful than continually defending the lying buffoon in the White House.

          • LFOldTimer

            What you see is what you get with Trump. He’s not a fake liberal democrat like crooked Hillary and Obama who lie through their teeth to get your approval then stab you in the back. Trump speaks to us like he would speak to somebody behind closed doors. Open and honest. Not a fake bone in his body. Not a liar.

            Obama marketed himself as the anti-war president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize then went on to drop hundreds of thousands of bombs on ME nations that he had NO LEGAL AUTHORITY to attack. He killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the process. And Hillary was his Secretary of State who helped arrange the mass killings and destruction. Yet the mentally deficient democrats worshiped them! ha.

            The democrat party was supposed to be the anti-war party. Under Obama and Hillary they were the blood thirsty party who turned a blind eye war crimes. Crimes that any other national leader would have been extradited to the Hague to stand trial for!

          • justanon

            Again, you are NOT addressing the VERIFIABLE trump LIES that Mr. Umberg cited.

            Why not?

            And FYI, lies are the very definition of “fake”, so you can take your BS and share it with other gullible trump supporters as they are the only ones DUMB enough to believe that garbage.

          • LFOldTimer

            Tell Umberg to write a hit piece on a democrat.

            When he does I’ll pay attention to his message.

            Otherwise I just consider it more political propaganda.

          • justanon

            In other words, you CAN’T defend trump’s lies, ha, ha, ha.