This is the final instalment of the story of General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who served nearly two years in the Trump administration as defence secretary.
November and most of December 2018 was a quiet period for the general, who retired from active service in 2013.
Then, just before Christmas, his new career had ended. It was all over between him and President Trump.
Trump had announced a withdrawal from Syria. Late on Thursday, December 20, he tweeted:
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!
Here is an excerpt from the letter (emphases mine):
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February.
A Trump supporter tweeted:
As an American, I thank Gen. Mattis for his service. But he was for endless wars abroad, and that is not
#MAGA If leaving Syria and finally leaving Afghanistan after 18 years was a problem for him then its time for a new Secretary of Defense. #BringThemHome
The Democrats went ballistic. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), an anti-Trumper, was one of them:
This is scary. Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration. As we’ve seen with the President’s haphazard approach to Syria, our national defense is too important to be subjected to the President’s erratic whims.
Yet, as Newsmax host and former New York City policeman John Cardillo pointed out, Dems — and most neo-cons — were silent when Obama sacked Mattis in 2013:
Democrats and NeoCons had no problem when Obama fired Mattis.
Cardillo included a screengrab of the notice from the now-defunct neo-con The Weekly Standard at the time:
Obama Fires Top General Without Even a Phone Call
Jan 25, 2013 – President Barack Obama fired General James Mattis, the head of Central Command, without even calling the general to let him know he was being replaced … In another post Ricks said Mattis was fired because: … There is also a belief that Mattis and Obama differed on Iran.
Byron York, a sometimes-Trumper at the Washington Examiner, had a good Twitter thread on Mattis’s resignation, which concluded:
So beyond the freakout, Trump is asking questions that, most likely, many Americans ask about these military commitments. Will be interesting to see what public thinks on the Syria, Afghanistan issues. 5/5 End.
The Trumpet, an ex-Dem, pro-Trump blog, had a lengthy analysis on December 21 which began:
The difficulty of the past few weeks has been figuring out which of the many President Trump Christmas gifts to the American people is the best. This week featured the announcement of American troops leaving Syria (a Trump campaign promise). That Syria (and Afghanistan draw-down) announcement prompted the honorable General “Maddog” Mattis to announce his departure as Secretary of Defense. Then on Thursday, President Trump proved the detractors wrong once again as he pulled the rug out from under clearly shocked Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer. The Syria announcement in particular is an excellent example of the stupidity of President Trump’s policy opponents. The “partial” government shutdown is an excellent example of how to fight the Swamp.
An article which appeared that day in Military Times posited that Blackwater could be back:
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is out.
Mattis’ resignation comes amid news that President Donald Trump has directed the drawdown of 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria, and 7,000 U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a U.S. official confirmed to Military Times, a story first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
This month, in the January/February print issue of the gun and hunting magazine “Recoil,” the former contractor security firm Blackwater USA published a full-page ad, in all black with a simple message: “We are coming.”
Is the war in Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere ― about to be privatized?
If Blackwater returns, it would be the return of a private security contractor that was banned from Iraq, but re-branded and never really went away.
The article said that Blackwater’s founder and former CEO Erik Prince, who apparently has no connection with the current Blackwater, has been courting President Trump since early 2017. The Military Times asked Prince for a comment, but he declined other than to direct the publication to what had already appeared in the media.
The next day, Saturday, December 22, things began to hot up — against Mad Dog.
A Trump supporter tweeted:
He was a good
#Marine. But his resignation letter was a political statement more than anything else. He disrespected his #CommanderInChief on the way out. He tarnished not only his reputation as a good soldier but also the office for which Pres @realDonaldTrump entrusted to him …
Obama rudely relieved Mattis of his command yet he offered no parting cheap shots. Mattis prove to be the biggest disappointment of the year
Later that day, Trump discussed his rationale for hiring the retired Marine general:
When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.
Brandon Weichert wrote an article for The American Spectator, which is a must-read: ‘James Mattis Is Not America’s “Indispensable Man”‘.
Weichert’s premise is that Mattis was undermining Trump’s agenda. Excerpts follow.
First, the media meltdown is completely misplaced:
As with every one of these outgoing Trump appointees, the “mainstream” media has gone into a full meltdown upon their announced departure (despite, in most cases, that same media having lambasted those appointees for having taken the job in the first place) …
More often than not, though, the person that the media extolls as being “indispensable” ends up being quite, well, dispensable.
Secondly, Mattis was promoting his own policies while slow-walking Trump’s:
James Mattis was hired by the duly elected president of the United States to implement a set of policies that President Trump had campaigned on. Unfortunately, like the other indispensable men listed above, Mattis clearly had his own policy goals that he wished to implement — even if they did not align with the president’s. And Mattis was doing more than “reassuring” world leaders or domestic opponents of the president (an act, which, in itself is somewhat insubordinate).
Mattis was slow-walking essential parts of the president’s agenda.
Thirdly, Mattis was uncomfortable with Trump from the beginning:
Come to think of it, from the outset of the Trump Administration, Mattis displayed a discomfort with the president. When he first became secretary of defense, reports circulated that he was attempting to fill his Pentagon staff with virulent “Never Trumpers” from both the Bush wing of the Republican Party and the Obama and Clinton wings of the Democratic Party. It was likely Mattis’s inability to fully gel with the president’s agenda as well as with personality differences (Trump is a notorious showman and Mattis is considered to be a “warrior monk” who eschews the limelight) that led to his sudden departure (although, Mattis’ departure had been speculated for several months preceding the official announcement).
On Sunday, December 23, more anti-Mattis matter started showing up which ended in a crescendo from the Oval Office.
David A Clarke Jr, former sheriff of Milwaukee and a strong Trump supporter, tweeted sentiments that chimed in with those from The American Spectator article. He also mentioned the outgoing Brett McGurk, more about whom later on:
All the consternation over Mattis and McGurk reminds me of a Don Rumsfeld rule. “As a cabinet member, don’t begin to think you’re the President. The constitution provides for only one.” Founders wanted civilian control of the military thru our elected President
That’s probably the only time I’ve agreed with anything Donald Rumsfeld has said outside of ‘We don’t know what we don’t know’ (paraphrased).
Trump did two things that day: a) appointed an acting replacement for Mattis and b) got the general out the door immediately.
That afternoon, CBS News’s Margaret Brennan tweeted:
Breaking – our David Martin reports that @realDonaldTrump will order SecDef Mattis to leave his Pentagon post immediately rather than work through the February 28 date he cited in his resignation letter. Deputy Patrick Shanahan to step into role. SAO confirmed.
A few minutes later, President Trump tweeted:
I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!
ZeroHedge had a good article about these developments, including the aforementioned tweets. Ultimately (emphasis in the original):
The departure is hardly a surprise, Trump had been tweeting critical messages about Mattis and Brett McGurk, a top national security official who resigned after Mattis …
Trump slammed McGurk as a turncoat Obama appointee who was already expected to leave in February.
With Shanahan as acting SecDef, one thing is for sure: The military-industrial-complex will be well looked after.
Here’s Shanahan’s official bio, which shows just how deep his ties with government contractors run.
They cited his Wikipedia entry.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) immediately tweeted his support for Shanahan — as well as his thanks to Mattis. Graham is on board the Trump Train as and when it suits him:
President @realDonaldTrumps decision to elevate the Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to Acting Secretary of Defense is a wise choice.
The Conservative Treehouse wrapped up Trump’s actions quite nicely:
Defense Secretary James Mattis wanted us to stay in Paris accord. Trump said no. Mattis wanted us to stay in the Iran deal. Trump said no. Mattis wanted less pressure on NATO. Trump said no. Mattis wanted to keep soldiers in Syria. Trump said no. Mattis wanted to hang around until February… Trump said no.
On Christmas Eve, people were still whining over Mattis, but as one shrewd someone commented on Twitter:
I’m old enough to remember when Mattis warned the president that the Middle East would explode if our embassy was moved to Jerusalem. It didn’t. But everyone should totally trust Mattis on Syria.
That has to be the best comment about the whole Mattis situation!
On Christmas Day, Mattis gave his final address to the US military (video included):
To all you lads and lasses holding the line in 2018 on land, at sea, or in the air, thanks for keeping the faith. Merry Christmas and may God hold you safe.
On Boxing Day, The National Interest posted an excellent analysis of Trump’s policy for peace, Mattis’s opposition and the inability of the media and other elites to comprehend that Americans do not want their troops fighting endless wars. It is written by Daniel L. Davis, a US Army lieutenant colonel who retired in 2015 after 21 years and four combat deployments.
Davis quoted anti-Trumper broadcast journalist Chris Matthews who proved that even a broken clock is right twice a day with this quote — made before the election:
On September 30, 2016, near the end of the campaign, Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” explained why people were supporting Trump despite “all his flaws.”
The Washington elite, he said , don’t understand the “patriotic feelings people have” who “feel like the country has been let down …’
Trump had wanted the US military to leave hotspots like Afghanistan for some time:
As late as 2013, Trump tweeted , “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard & quick. Rebuild the U.S. first.”
Once he was in office, things were different (emphases mine):
Yet in August 2017, he announced that he was not going to withdraw, but instead expand the number of troops. In explaining the turn-around, Trump said , “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts, but all of my life I heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.” Was Mattis a key reason for the reversal?
According to reports, Mattis told Trump that if he withdrew from Afghanistan, then what “happened in Iraq under President Obama with the emergence of ISIS will happen under you, Mattis told Trump, in one of his sharpest declarations.”
Following Mattis’ declaration, the president replied in disgust, “You all are telling me that I have to do this,” and “I guess that’s fine and we’ll do it , but I still think you’re wrong. I don’t know what this is for. It hasn’t gotten us anything. We’ve spent trillions.” A similar dynamic occurred when Trump wanted to get out of Syria in April of this year, telling a rally in Ohio that he was going to get out of Syria “very soon.”
The article goes on to say that the pushback from Mattis and other advisers continued, further delaying Trump’s plan to withdraw. However, once he made his decision:
Mattis’ resignation was the logical next step.
Now, in 2019:
The person he next selects for the role of Secretary of Defense needs to share his realist beliefs. This person must also be someone who knows how to navigate Washington, understands issues of war and peace, and is a strong leader.
Trump is right: things do indeed look different when one sits in the Oval Office. But he was elected to that position because his instincts matched those of large segments of the American population, and it is right for him to turn his campaign promises into reality once in office. He needs senior advisors who are going to effectively implement those sound policies, not thwart them.
On December 27, a retired naval officer, Stu Cvrk, posted a stinging, ‘contrarian’ must-read analysis of Mattis on Twitter (also see Thread reader). Cvrk objected to Mattis’s embrace of climate change, his nomination of Anne Patterson (unpopular in Egypt for her pro-MB views), his views on transsexuals in the military and his wanting to stay in war zones. He says (points 34-36) that Mattis resigned for a completely different reason:
It turns out that the report of Mattis’s resignation because of policy differences related to the Syrian withdrawal that the legacy media have been running with is completely bogus.
The real story is that, in a small meeting where
@POTUS selected Gen Milley as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mattis threw a temper tantrum acting like a 3-yr-old because he thought it his prerogative to pick the Chairman, not @POTUS.
In short, it was an unprofessional epic meltdown by the SecDef that led
@POTUS to request his resignation – and the media spun the “policy difference” as relating to the Syrian withdrawal as opposed to the real reason, i.e., the selection of the chairman. Strike three!
Cvrk concludes that praising Mattis is akin to praising James Comey and Robert Mueller!
On December 28, The American Conservative provided a detailed timeline of the opposition of Trump’s military advisers and congratulated the president:
Trump Scores, Breaks Generals’ 50-Year War Record
His national security team had been trying to box him in like every other president. But he called their bluff.
On December 29, Steven W Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, wrote an editorial for the New York Post in which he said he was eagerly looking forward to seeing his own son once again:
There is no reason to keep American forces in Syria.
In fact, there is no reason to keep American forces in harm’s way, separated from their families and loved ones, in any foreign country unless it directly benefits the United States in direct, tangible ways.
As for me and my family, we are looking forward to having our son home soon.
In closing, Mattis and his fellow generals use war as an ongoing policy tool, because, without it, they’d no longer have a career, especially after retirement.
Perhaps that is why the Founding Fathers wanted civilians to be in charge of the US forces.