James Mattis mocks Donald Trump over not fighting in Vietnam

Nick Allen
James Mattis - the 'world's most overrated general' according to Donald Trump - AP

James Mattis, the former US defence secretary, has mocked Donald Trump, joking about the president's bone spurs that led to him being deferred from the Vietnam draft.

The retired Marine Corps general was responding after Mr Trump referred to him as the "world's most overrated general" this week.

Mr Trump's comment came during an acrimonious White House meeting with Democrats to discuss Syria policy.

Speaking at a charity gala dinner in New York, Mr Mattis made a series of cutting jokes at the president's expense.

He said: "I earned my spurs on the battlefield... and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor."

James Mattis - the 'world's most overrated general' according to Donald Trump Credit: AP

Mr Mattis went on: "I think the only person in the military that Mr Trump doesn't think is overrated is Colonel Sanders," referring to the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken."

The man who commanded forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, said he had decided to take Mr Trump's jibe as a compliment.

He said: "I'm not just an overrated general. I am the greatest, the 'world's most overrated' - I'm honoured to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress.

"So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals, and frankly that sounds pretty good to me. And you do have to admit that, between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories..."

James Mattis in Afghanistan in 2001 Credit: Dave Martin

Mr Mattis left the administration last year, saying in his resignation letter that Mr Trump's worldview was irreconcilable with his own.

He said his time on the battlefield had been "hard work" but it wasn't until he started working in Washington that he "realised how easy I had it overseas in a combat zone."

Mr Mattis said: "A year, according to White House time, is about 9,000 hours of 'executive time,' or 1,800 holes of golf."

He added that for him "the recovery process is going well, the counselor says I'll graduate soon."

Referring to Mr Trump's "Mad Dog" nickname for him, the general said he had "turned over a kinder, gentler leaf".

He said: "I like to think of myself as less of a mad dog and more of an emotional support animal."

Mr Mattis resigned after Mr Trump said he intended to pull 2,000 American troops out of Syria.

Since then he has largely refrained from publicly criticising the administration, saying he owed "a duty of silence."

But Mr Mattis did allude to Mr Trump's recent decision to have US troops stand down in Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces who had been US allies in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.

The former defence secretary said: "We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies."