Mr. McRaven was a senior member of the Navy SEALs when he oversaw the Bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during which the Qaeda leader was killed. Soon after, Mr. McRaven was put in charge of the Pentagon’s entire contingent of Special Operations forces and built the command into a national security behemoth.
After 37 years of military service, Mr. McRaven retired in 2014 and became chancellor of the University of Texas — where he studied journalism as an undergraduate — in early 2015. Now 63, he stepped down from that post this past spring, amid a battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
“It’s baffling why the president would launch an uninformed, spiteful attack on a public servant like Bill McRaven,” said Stephen B. Slick, a former C.I.A. station chief in Israel who is now the director of the intelligence studies project at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s not clear what psychological need or political purpose is served by such behavior, but it can only feed the anxieties of our most important security partners.”
In an August op-ed article in The Washington Post, Mr. McRaven defended John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, whose security clearance was revoked after he criticized Mr. Trump. In a succinct but searing critique, Mr. McRaven wrote that the president, instead of setting an example as a leader, had “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”
After nearly two years in office, Mr. Trump still has not fully grasped the role of the troops he commands, nor the responsibility that he has to lead them, top Defense Department officials say. In the Fox News interview aired on Sunday, the president addressed another criticism — that he had not yet visited American troops in the war zones of Iraq or Afghanistan.
Mr. Trump said he had “an unbelievable busy schedule” but that “things are being planned.” He added, “I think you will see that happen.”
In picking a fight with Mr. McRaven, Mr. Trump was taking on a highly decorated military leader.
Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. McRaven, a captain at the time, was assigned to the White House’s National Security Council to work on counterterrorism issues while he recovered from injuries from a parachute training accident.