Jim Mattis’ restrained criticism of President Trump, and American politics generally, is more devastating than a hundred MSNBC polemics.
President Donald Trump has had a rough week. The top story this weekend was the departure of his longtime executive assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, after she revealed personal details about the President’s family to the press. Then there was his spat with FOX News, which employs Trump allies like Sean Hannity and reports from a center-right perspective but also doesn’t shy away from criticism.
Neil Cavuto excoriated him, saying, “First of all, Mr. President, we don’t work for you. I don’t work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you. Call balls and strikes on you. My job, Mr. President, our job here, is to keep the scores, not settle scores.”
But for me, the most devastating criticism Trump faced was from his former Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. Mattis resigned in December 2018 over a disagreement about troop withdrawals from Syria. He’s also releasing a new book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, which while critical of Trump’s foreign policy and leadership style, apparently isn’t openly critical enough for the left.
One Vanity Fair headline even read “Mattis Says He Loves America Too Much to Call Trump a Moron”. Sorry, Vanity Fair, not everyone is a partisan hack who views everything as a political litmus test.
Mattis, a retired United States Marine Corps general, is well-respected in the military. He’s considered a “soldier’s soldier”, well-read and disciplined. Some called him a “warrior monk” for his devotion to the military, and NCOs and officers alike even hung icons depicting Mattis as a patron saint.
Though Mattis believes he’s duty bound to respect the Commander-in-Chief, as most members of our military believe, it’s obvious from his writing how he feels about President Trump. The two men had fundamental disagreements about foreign policy and public service.
Trump wants to be seen as strong on defense and tough on our enemies overseas, but at the same time wants to make deals with longtime enemies, end our many military commitments, and bring the troops home. It’s tough to have it both ways.
Appointing Mattis as Secretary of Defense sent a clear message to our military, but it’s no surprise that a former general schooled in the art of war would seek military solutions to every problem. Trump should have known he would get strong push back over withdrawing from our military commitments.
Mattis is a dying breed of leaders who put God and country before themselves, and who despise the tribalism and partisan rancor that’s infected every aspect of public life. When Rachel Maddow or Jim Acosta criticize President Trump, it’s just another day, but when a man like Mattis says he “may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit” and “We all know that we’re better than our current politics,” that carries a huge amount of weight.