On the Border, Mattis Once Again the Adult in the Room


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonderandhome.com

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26 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    The entire purpose of this operation is just another variation on the theme of a display of dominance and performative cruelty.

    It is Trump’s most essential campaign pledge, to instill fear in anyone outside his base, and to grind the axe of ethnic grievance.

    If I sound repetitious on this point, well, it has to be repeated since there really is nothing else to this administration other than variations on this same theme. Hatred and loathing of nonwhite people is Trumps sole hit, and every policy initiative is some sort of extended dance remix of the hit, unplugged remix of the hit, seasonal themed version of the hit, and so on.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Good post.

    By all accounts, Mattis dislikes/hates ‘Mad Dog’, but will answer to Chaos, which I think was his unit’s callsign in Gulf War Uno, and thus he was Chaos Actual.

    The biggest thing I don’t get about this is that I was always taught (several times) that operational command of military forces flowed exclusively from the President through the Secretary of Defense and onward to the COCOMs (in this case USNORTHCOM). I always belelieved there is no authority for anyone else to give orders absent a 25th amendment situation.

    (The thing most emphasized is that the JCS has no role in the operational chain of command, but I gotta think that also applies to the DHS Secretary & especiallly the White House CoS, who is not even Senate confirmed)

    So, this “cabinet memo” (I’ve heard a couple different names) is seriously vexxing to me.

    Eta- also I’ve been bearish in Mattis for a while. He’s always managed his press deliberately – though he’s done a good job with it. Granted, he’s done good at his jobs which makes good press easier.

    What the DoD absolutely does not need is a ‘Super CJCS’. He also didn’t pay any price for the Theranos debacle, but that indicates where his head is at on the business side of things – which is the more important side for the SecDef.Report

    • You are correct and if you read Mattis’ press gaggle that is linked a couple of times in the piece, he actually goes into detail of how DHS is a “subordinate”-that’s his word-department to DOD on all matters military even when supporting one of their agencies like Border Patrol.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        “Interagency Joint Task Force” orgs are totally mundane, but also always have some serious MOU/MOA bureacratic heft behind them. What’s confusing are all the reports of ‘going around’ Mattis and/or the one’s where he was caught unawares of the directive Kelly signed.

        (Has anyone published the memo itself? All I’ve seen is “we’ve seen the memo, here’s what it says in our own words”)

        Eta- Kelly does have some substantial experience with this sort of thing, being Panetta’s military aide for a year or two, and especially being SOUTHCOM commander, which has longstanding agreements with DEA, Coast Guard, and Customs & Border PatrolReport

        • This is more guess than fact, but depending on who you believe, the “going around” narrative stems from Trump apparently thinking DHS and Nielsen could make the troops part of the law enforcement effort. DHS has requested as much at the first of Nov and were summarily shut down by DOD. Now here we are again. Mattis isn’t going to give up operational control of active duty forces, and certainly not in a way that will break the law and put the troops needlessly in harms way.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Kelly should know better, and I can only think he does, and he’s kicking the can to Mattis.Report

          • Kelly may be rationalizing that things would get even worse if Trump fired him. Nothing stops that rationalization from proceeding down the chain of command, with everyone waiting for an issue big enough to justify a principled refusal. (Cue Martin Niemoller.)Report

            • I think that is Kelly’s thinking, the problem is we will only know how he did with that if he A) keeps Trump coloring within the lines or, and more likely, B) we judge him by the line he finally draws that gets him the door.Report

          • Or he talked Trump down to whatever a “cabinet directive” is knowing it wasn’t binding and knowing Mattis would backstop it. That might be wishful but the two of them go way back, so not impossible.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Part of me wants to say, “Checks & Balances should be perfectly adequate to keep Trump from going off the rails”, and then I remember that Congress and the Courts have been letting the executive get away with so much these past few decades that the checks are badly shorted out, and the balances are in desperate need of a depot level re-calibration.Report

          • Avatar Morat20 says:

            Kelly is clearly trying not to get fired again. I mean his apparently did get fired, ignored it and continued working, and Trump refused to press the issue.

            But Ivanka is clearly trying to throw her weight around and isn’t a Kelly fan (he keeps stopping things from happening that she and Trump want), and she might give Daddy enough spine to actually follow through.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    As soon as this hit the news, my first thought was, “The White House chief of staff, a position that does not require Senate confirmation, clearly has no authority over either DHS or the military. How the hell does a memo signed by Kelly authorize anything?” Can anyone shed any light on that?Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      I had the same question. this answer seems correct, though I can’t vouch for the source or its accuracy (it was among the first tweets that came up in a search for ‘cabinet memo’)

      to clear things up regarding “use of lethal force cabinet order”. Later reports show trump signed the actual order, & Kelly signed the forwarding memo, as opposed to Kelly signing actual order. A difference w/ little distinction. Kelly still complicit, but facts are important.


  4. The crux, I think, it whether we trust the military to continue to refuse to obey illegal orders from the president. Apparently they are doing so in this case. I’d still be much more comfortable if the commander-in-chief weren’t going to continue to issue them, as we all know goddamned well he will.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      Just imagine speaking to a time traveler in 1956 or so:
      Yes, the current President’s supporters acknowledge he must be disregarded as an imbecile, and his statements carefully filtered through various intermediaries to become recognizable English, then shaped and modified more so as not to cause general panic and confusion.
      What’s that?
      No, on the contrary, much of the American public supports him and wants more of this sort of thing. And basically the media pretty much just presents this as the way normal functioning democracies work.
      Because you see, we have faith that the military junta will ignore any dangerous orders, and take command to prevent anything bad from happening.
      Impeachment? Oh, that’s a bit drastic, we think.

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        During the early days of the Trump administration, Mattis apparently made a joke about tackling President Trump if he got close to touching the nuclear button. I think this was more dismissive towards Trump’s critics, a kind of drubbing but still eerily possible.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Even more ridiculous to the hypothetical time traveler:

        Meanwhile, the President is personally profiting from selling $200,000-a-year memberships in his private clubs to CEO’s and he spends about one day out of every four outside of the White House schmoozing with the rich and influential at these clubs. And he owns hotels and other hospitality businesses where foreign diplomats trying to do business with the United States prefer to stay.

        Also, his son is administering, but he still owns, the licensing of his name on land developments around the world. Same son that was so eager to have that meeting with the Russian agent offering political dirt on the President’s campaign opponent.

        No, I told you the President is a Republican. Yes, that was a Russian agent helping out Republican candidates. Also other Russian agents have infiltrated and influence the National Rifle Association. Yes, the marksmanship group, only they’re really worried about gays and blacks now. They say there’s no such thing as an assault rifle and that everyone should be able to own one. And Republican politicians are in mortal terror of this group and its members, and they just sort of pretend that the Russians aren’t influencing it. …Yes, the marksmanship group.

        Anyway, the President’s closest advisors include his son and his daughter-in-law, who hold private business and real estate interests while they’re taking government salaries, and the son-in-law hasn’t been able to qualify for a full security clearance in two years because he keeps on forgetting things on his financial disclosure form. Still, that’s the guy in charge of negotiating peace in the middle east.

        Oh, I almost forgot! The President inexplicably sides with dictators and kings who are wildly unpopular with the electorate, in toadying, subordinate terms, and openly cites their financial transactions in and with the United States as the reasons why. He got fleeced by North Korea on the nuclear deal. …Well, yes, but we’re just going to have to live with North Korea having nukes now. And most recently, the President ignored the CIA’s findings that the effective head of government of Saudi Arabia personally ordered a murder in an embassy. They’re under contract to buy weapons from American contractors, you see.

        What’s that you say? No, impeachment’s kind of off the table because the President’s party has a majority in the Senate and that means they can get the judges they want, so they just put up with all the rest of it.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Very good but it is daughter and son-in-law.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          When we hear the histories of societies that fall from democracy into autocracy its often laid at the feet of the singular individuals- a Stalin, or Hitler.

          What’s often neglected is how it was the surrender of the rest of the institutions of those societies that allowed the malignancy to grow.
          There were always would-be dictators lurking in every society, but normally kept in check by various forces.

          No, Trump isn’t a dictator, but only due to his own laziness and incompetence.

          What’s alarming to me is the passivity and surrender of our institutions- Congress, the media, the Christian churches.

          They do remind me of the Weimar institutions like the aristocracy, military, and business interests who smugly assumed they could control the dark forces.

          The damage being done will get worse after Trump, not better unless there is a strong concerted effort to contain it. Because somewhere out there is a more competent, more determined and more skillful Trump who is watching, learning, and planning his or her next move.

          I know a lot of people have noted that this same sort of criticism was leveled at Nixon, as evidence that we shouldn’t be so alarmed.

          But my memory was that the predictions failed to come true, precisely because there was so much pushback. He only resigned because members of his own party came to him and warned him they would impeach him otherwise. Because the institutions all became alarmed and indignant.

          Had they not done that, our history might have turned out very differently. There isn’t some magic autopilot spell that demands that American history have a happy outcome.Report

          • Avatar James K says:


            One of the things I find somewhat encouraging is the number of people who are starting to realise that the President of the United States holds way too much power with little to no accountability.

            My hope is, in the aftermath of the Trump administration, changes will be made to ensure the President’s power is more tightly circumscribed and overseen. My fear, is that nothing will change and the next wanna-be strongman will be smart an charismatic enough to seize control entirely.Report

            • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

              As long as whoever is president can be the useful idiot for those with a policy agenda, no changes will be made. The nightmare scenario, as Chip points out, is when the president is useful but not an idiot.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      When Trump starts firing Generals and instructing the Pentagon about who needs to be promoted to replace them, then we can no longer trust the military to disregard illegal orders.Report

  5. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    I remember reading an anecdote about LBJ being barred from using a Senator only door after he became part of the executive branch, but I’ll be damned if I can find it right now.

    How did we go, in 60 years, from that to what we have now?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Congress went on a bender of throwing most of the details, and in some cases things much bigger than details, over the wall to executive branch agencies and departments. Want to lobby for/against regulation of CO2? Forget Congress — the action’s all at the EPA and the courts. Impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients? At the discretion of the Secretary of DHHS. Federal land use policy? Assorted executive branch agencies, from Department of Interior to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC can, for example, override all of the other groups and create energy transport corridors pretty much wherever they damned well please).Report