Former Defense Secretary James Mattis roasted his former boss at the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York City on Thursday night.
Mattis took the stage at the annual dinner — an opportunity to crack jokes about local and national politics — with an introduction from comic legend Martin Short.
“According to the president he’s the ‘most overrated general,'” Short cracked in his intro. “I think he’s an American hero.”
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Mattis received a standing ovation as he stepped to the dais.
The rebuttal came a day after President Donald Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general” during a meeting with lawmakers about the situation in Syria.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, left, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, center, and Happy Warrior Award Recipient Mary Ann Tighe react to opening remarks during the 74th Annual Alfred E. Smith Dinner, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, in New York.
Mattis had said in an interview in August that his silence about Trump was “not going to be forever.”
One of the general’s most biting jokes came in relation to Trump’s infamous deferment of military service in Vietnam over alleged bone spurs in his feet.
“I earned my spurs on the battlefield; Donald Trump earned his spurs from the doctor,” Mattis said.
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Mattis, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, served as Trump’s first defense secretary, but resigned in December 2018 over policy differences, particularly Trump’s plans to pull out American troops from Syria, writing in his resignation letter that Trump should have a defense secretary “whose views are better aligned” with his own.
The former secretary of defense directly referenced the “most overrated general” comment in a crack comparing himself to three-time Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep.
“I’m not just an overrated general. I’m the world’s greatest overrated general,” he joked. “I’m honored to be called that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actor. So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals.”
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
President Donald Trump pauses while speaking as James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, listens during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, June 21, 2018.
He went on to say, “Between me and Meryl, at least we’ve had some victories.”
Mattis, who has been critical of many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions since leaving office, also got serious for a moment Thursday, mentioning the U.S.’s Kurdish allies in Syria. He called for the U.S. to again back the population, which has been attacked by Turkey.
“Let us restore trust in one another,” Mattis said.
The president was onstage in Dallas at the same time as Mattis’ keynote, delivering a campaign speech to a packed crowd at American Airlines Center.