Yesterday, former Defense Secretary and retired Marine Corps General James Mattis unloaded on his former boss, President Trump, in a manner that I think is probably unique in the history of the republic. In a scorching 500 word statement sent to reporters, Mattis essentially accused President Trump and his administration of being dangers to the US Constitution and the root cause of all that is wrong in America. He went so far as to accuse military members who obey orders to help suppress what can only be described as an incipient insurrection as violators of their oath of office.
This is the statement:
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.
When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.
We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.
James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.
Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.
Donald Trump 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. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.
We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.
Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.”
I didn’t think Mattis was a great choice for Secretary of Defense when he was nominated because, as a rule, I think the Title X prohibition on retired military officers serving as SecDef is a very, very good thing. Reform never happens when the upper reaches of an organization is populated by people who grew up in that organization. People who succeed under a particular system only rarely attempt to change it because to change it calls into question your own success. Mattis’s politics were a bit of cipher. Yes, he was fired by Obama–more on that in a second– but his name was also floated as a possible cabinet secretary in a Clinton administration and Bill Kristol tried to recruit him for an independent run for president.
The warning signs flashed brightly and frequently. Department of Defense was a hotbed of Obamanauts occupying senior positions as Mattis and the White House tussled over nominations. Mattis went to the mattresses to try to get Michelle Flournoy nominated to be his principal deputy, the Number Two spot in the Pentagon, despite the fact that she was an Obama political appointee. This idea that the operations of the Pentagon were to be somehow divorced from the politics of the Administration was bizarre and served to explain a lot of what happened under Mattis.
The social engineering of the military carried out by the Obama administration was not undone despite orders from the President. In fact, the Defense Department seemed more like a part of the #Resistance than an executive department in the Trump administration. This corruption of the warfighting ability of the Armed Forces and the institutionalization of placing the worship of sexual fetishes above combat effectiveness continued apace. One is left adrift when trying to reconcile the image of the hard-bitten combat commander Mad Dog Mattis with the guy who protected policies that kept on active duty people who needed a constant hormonal cocktail and disfiguring surgery to self-actualize but continued to bar from enlistment a kid with braces.
The break point came in Syria. Mattis had lobbied the Obama administration for a more expansive role for the US military in Syria to try to do heaven knows what in the effervescing wreckage of that state engineered by the Obama administration’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood inspired Arab Spring and their attempt to overthrow Bashar Assad. Obama’s objection was that Mattis saw Iran as the enemy when that administration considered them to be a strategic partner. He was fired. The same scenario basically played out again under Trump. I don’t think the Trump administration was ever in doubt about the nature of Iran but they were unwilling to get involved in a shooting war and elected to use the Iranian threat as a way of bringing about something of a rapprochement between Israel and much of the Arab world and a defanging of the ability of the “Palestinian street” to cause mischief. When Trump announced US forces were leaving Syria, Mattis said ‘not so much,’ and, when Trump didn’t back down he resigned.
Obviously, Mattis is unhappy but the tone and specific bill of indictment is little short of bizarre and dishonest. Trump is not considering deploying troops to crush demonstrations, he is considering doing so to put down what amounts to an armed insurrection in some cities. Protecting and defending the Constitution, the core of the officer’s oath of office, does not extend to protecting those destroying property and seeking a violent overthrow of the government.
The fetish Mattis is making of ‘equal justice,’ in this context, is just nuts. He’s saying that there is no ‘equal justice under the law’ unless you have the right to assault your neighbor and burn his crap. The concern over Trump dividing us is also a bit strange. Mattis was totally MIA during the entire Russia Hoax, in fact, he could have torpedoed the Flynn allegations himself as he had access to the phone call transcripts everyone was talking about and undoubtedly knew Flynn from when Flynn was in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency and revamped how intelligence was used in combat in Afghanistan as Mattis commanded US Central Command at the same time. He doesn’t seem to see any divisiveness present in this soft coup attempt and blames all the division on Trump.
What this boils down to is simply score settling. It is a cheap shot that says much more about how much of Mattis’s persona was created by press releases and skilled reputation management than it does about any of the events of the past week.