Last week, former General and Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal in which he took clearly took issue with President Trump on certain issues, while not calling him out by name.
Mattis wrote, “A wise leader must deal with reality and state what he intends, and what level of commitment he is willing to invest in achieving that end. He then has to trust that his subordinates know how to carry that out. Wise leadership requires collaboration; otherwise, it will lead to failure.”
Matthis continued: “Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed. Returning to a strategic stance that includes the interests of many nations as we can make common cause with, we can occupy an increasingly lonely position, one that puts us at increasing risk in the world.”
During his time in office, the former general had his disagreements with Trump’s views on foreign policy. Trump is arguably the most isolationist president we have had in generations, but he is far from the trigger-happy war hawk that his opponents claim he is.
Mattis believes that is a naïve approach, and the two have a different worldview. Mattis retired following President Trump’s controversial decision to withdraw troops from Syria believing that ISIS had been defeated.
Secretary Mattis disagreed and left the Pentagon soon after.
The media is blowing Mattis’s comments out of proportion. The former Secretary of Defense had a professional disagreement with the president. There doesn’t seem to have been any personal animosity between them; it was simply a professional difference of opinions.
Unlike past Trump administration officials—many of whom have left the administration and publically trashed the president for financial and publicity gain—Mattis respectfully disagreed with Trump and left it at that.
I partly disagree with General Mattis on one point: Trump would defend our allies if they were attacked, and vice-versa.
Much of what angers the president with regards to our allies is their lack of financial support for the NATO alliance. Trump correctly points out that the United States carries the majority of the financial and military burden of the alliance, and he wants them to pay up.
It is not an unreasonable criticism.
However, Mattis seemed to take issue with another president as well.
For as critical as he was of Trump, he was even harder on Obama.
Mad Dog Takes on Obama
Mattis explained his frustration with former President Barack Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan, telling NPR that Obama had “given two contradictory objectives in 2011.”
He said, “the forces under my command at CENTCOM were to degrade the Taliban while building up the Afghan army. They were also to withdraw on a strict timetable, independent of circumstances on the ground. We could do one or the other, but not both.
What you have got to do is figure out what it is you intend to do at the outset of a war and then hold firm to that and don’t half-step it. I think that we have had serious policy challenges in figuring out exactly what it is we intend to do and then holding firm to that vision.”
Obama’s foreign policy and national security strategy were all over the board.
Upon taking office he hastily removed American military personnel from Iraq, leaving a vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS.
In Syria, he publicly created a “red line” for Syria, saying that he would bomb them if the Assad regime ever used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Assad did just that, and Obama didn’t respond.
He went around the world apologizing for American foreign policy, and he emboldened Russia by removing missiles in Eastern Europe and failing to take action to dissuade the Putin regime from interfering in Ukraine.
That is Obama’s foreign policy legacy—a legacy that has left American interests exposed to outside threats.
It is the legacy that President Trump inherited and has worked to improve.
James Mattis was right to call Obama out for his ineptitude.