The Fall of James Mattis
He embraced too much Beltway statism and globalism to serve as Trump’s SecDef.
Question: What do you call a Trump cabinet member who disagrees with the president on getting out of the Paris climate agreement, tearing up Barack Obama’s ill-conceived and corruptly executed Iran nuclear deal, withdrawing our troops from Syria, reducing our presence in Afghanistan, pressing our NATO allies to pay what they’d promised, relocating the Israeli embassy to its rightful place in Jerusalem, and deploying the National Guard to our southern border to stem the tide of illegal immigration?
And so it was for General James Mattis.
As a former Marine, this author once thought very highly of Mattis, who’s a warrior-monk and an American Patriot. But it became painfully evident over time that he was also a globalist, a Swampster, a prima donna, and a man profoundly ill-suited to serve as this president’s secretary of defense.
When Mattis announced his resignation just before Christmas 2018, President Donald Trump thanked him for his service: “General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years. During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!”
Sure, Trump could’ve acknowledged the general’s efforts to improve the lethality and war-fighting capability of our Armed Forces. And he could’ve acknowledged his help in obliterating ISIS — a nasty band of Islamist cutthroats that had claimed a caliphate the size of Britain and humiliated Trump’s Oval Office predecessor.
But the president had just received from Mattis a public letter of resignation — a letter that made clear his disdain for Trump’s stewardship of “our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships” while conceding his right “to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with [his] on these and other subjects.”
Trump, not surprisingly, was then in no mood to shower Mattis with praise. The general had, after all, just taken a not-so-subtle public swipe at his commander-in-chief. It was an act unbecoming of a former flag or general officer, and it was a harbinger of attacks yet to come.
Earlier this year, at the height of the George Floyd riots, Mattis sat down with Jeffrey Goldberg — yes, that Jeffrey Goldberg — to take a few more sanctimonious shots at his former boss. “Donald Trump,” he wrote, “is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
Mattis was “angry and appalled.” And he said we must “reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”
So much for the word of the man who said, upon resigning, “It would be inappropriate and counterproductive for a former general, and a former Cabinet official, to criticize a sitting president.” (A few years earlier, when Mattis was still on active duty, it would’ve also been illegal. Article 88 of the UCMJ, which every officer well knows, strictly forbids “the use of contemptuous words against the president.”)
Were he less committed to currying favor with the Trump haters at The Atlantic and more committed to honoring the apolitical nature of the American military, Mattis would have — as we say in our beloved Corps — shut his lousy soup cooler. Instead, he made clear that his goal was to undermine a sitting president.
Former Trump attorney John Dowd, himself a former Marine, had heard enough. His scathing letter to the general is well worth the read.
As for that Constitution Mattis mentioned, where within it is the article that allows him to take part in the overthrow of a democratically elected president? If we’re to believe what Bob Woodward writes in his latest book, “Mattis quietly went to Washington National Cathedral to pray about his concern for the nation’s fate under Trump’s command and told [Director of National Intelligence Dan] Coats, ‘There may come a time when we have to take collective action’ since Trump is ‘dangerous. He’s unfit.’”
Setting aside the arrogance and outrageousness of Mattis’s purported comments, whether Trump is “dangerous” or “unfit” is not for him to decide. It never has been. That decision is reserved for the American people. They made it in 2016, and they’ll make it again on November 3.
James Mattis should know better. And we should demand better than a man who opposes so many planks of the president’s agenda, resigns, and then takes cheap shots at his boss for the benefit of hack journalists out to make a buck on fomenting controversy.
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