If you don't know the story of the U.S. Navy SEAL commander who was in charge of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, you're probably going to hear a lot about him over the next 24 hours or so. Retired Admiral William "Bill" McRaven spent 37 years in the military, mostly as a commander in the Navy SEALs. He later led the University of Texas System and became a sought-after speaker on leadership. His 2017 book, Make Your Bed , was a New York Times bestseller. The 7-word headline: "Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. "Rise to the occasion" McRaven's words come after President Trump this week used his power to revoke former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance.
Brennan had become a fierce critic of the president, and Trump wrote that he was considering revoking the clearances of other former intelligence officials, too. McRaven's statement is brief, just 12 sentences. He starts out by praising Brennan, calling him "one of the finest public servants I have ever known." Then, he writes directly to Trump: "Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."
He continues with a brutal takedown of the president: Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs. A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself. Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.
This is truly one of the most stunning and sudden direct challenges to a sitting president that I can remember an almost universally respected military leader making. Again, I expect that some readers will think he's out of line, and that Trump is within his rights. But setting aside that political disagreement, McRaven's actions here are an astonishing example of trying to lead--at a potentially large personal cost. Here's why it works. McRaven's entire statement is 230 words. By way of comparison, this column runs 711 words. He gets right to the point, and there is no misunderstanding his message. Effective communication is an important part of leadership. He has credibility.
McRaven is no longer in uniform, but his reputation is the main reason his message might resonate far and wide. Indeed, an hour after McRaven's story was published, it was the #1 story on The Washington Post's website and had 1,700 comments. McRaven doesn't offer bromides or call for people to rise up. He doesn't mention the Russia investigation, or the 2018 midterms. Instead, the only thing he asks Trump specifically to do is to all him to make the same sacrifice that McRaven says other people are making. That's a powerful message. Like most members of the military, Admiral McRaven was careful not to reveal his political beliefs while he was in uniform.
Despite reading his book and having followed him for a while, I could not tell you if he considers himself liberal or conservative. In fact, I still can't--but I'm truly surprised to see him coming out and making such an overt, public statement against the president like this. He offers a way out--and a challenge. By the time you get to the last sentence of McRaven's message, there's already a lot of energy spent--but his last line is amazing: "The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be." This is tough language, but it's interesting for what it's not. McRaven isn't demanding that Trump apologize, or reverse his decision, or resign.