James Mattis Resigns as Secretary of Defense

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 Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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37 Responses

  1. TL/DR: “The stupid, it burns!”Report

  2. Kolohe says:

    I disagree that the DoD is on better budgetary footing now; otherwise there wouldn’t have been as wide of discrepancy earlier this year between what the DoD wants and what the Trump budget guys (i.e. Mulvaney) offered to give them.

    Mattis is fundamentally correct about the alliances, and likely the one think the center-right, center left, and even further left foreign policy schools of thought agree on. He is also correct in that Russia and China are bad actors on the world stage. This is also something the center right and center left mostly agree on. But a lot of the center left took a long time to get onboard with this, and I’m not sure all will still be onboard in the Booker administration.


    Pulling out of Syria is the one good idea Trump has had. Pulling out of Afghanistan may be the second. The fact that this particular action by Trump was the last straw says a lot not only about Mattis, but also overall about the state of US foreign policy. As does the fact that Mattis is also lauded for stopping Trump from taking out Assad and bringing “the US much deeper into the conflict”

    The ‘adults in the room’ are perfectly willing to ‘muddle along’ without a plan, but are unwilling to actually sell that to the American voting public. Or come of will a plan that will change the game so there’s no longer muddling through. Or just quit the game entirely.

    The built up failure over the past 17 years of the ‘adults in the room’ is manifest today. I feel kinda bad that the Kurds are probably going to pay the biggest price for that failure, but it’s not the first time that’s happened either.

    (and vis a vis great power competition with China, either China is going to be poor forever, or else their economy will be a near peer with the US – but with a 4 to 1 population advantage. Similar to the USA’s core competency in the 20th century – sheer size coupled with good enough economic productivity)Report

    • InMD in reply to Kolohe says:

      I think you’re right but I’d take it a step further. The supposed adults in the room have been basically wrong about foreign policy since the decision to expand NATO east of the former DDR. Instead of solidifying the alliance where it was we’ve made mutual defense untenable. The assumption that Russia would be down forever/never again interested in its traditional sphere of influence and periodic western territories was pure hubris.

      Those same people doubled down on heedlessly toppling governments without understanding what they’d unleash and getting us involved in unwinnable actions with no clear objectives. The sad part is that, despite the total lack of achievement of any kind their perspective is the only one represented in the mainstream press. The reaction of the center left in this country to this decision has been mind boggling. Like, since when is perpetual, probably unconstitutional involvement in some other country’s civil war without any plan or legitimate interest at stake (all sans popular mandate of course) a liberal position? Hell, political alignment aside, when was it ever a rational position, on the merits?

      Trump is an asshole and I don’t think the way his adminstration has handled NATO is productive but these decisions should be welcomed. The fact that the most rational foreign policy decision in years is being treated this way shows just how disconnected from reality we’ve become.Report

      • J_A in reply to InMD says:

        The assumption that Russia would be down forever/never again interested in its traditional sphere of influence and periodic western territories was pure hubris.

        If you look at a map with Russian eyes, all you see west of Moscow is an incredibly long, widely open, impossible to defend, border, with no natural barriers, and traditional enemies at the other side. Since Nicholas I, who saw everything with the eyes of a soldier, realized this in the mid XIX century, Russia’s foreign policy has been focused on controlling the border countries to avoid an invasion of Russia.

        Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Baltic countries, Finland. Controlling all those has been the focus of Russian politics for close to two hundred years. Anyone that knows some European history should have known Russia, no matter the regime, from Tsarism to Communism, would never passively allow the near abroad to fall outside of Russian influence.

        As a wise strategist said: fight them there, so you don’t have them fighting you hereReport

        • InMD in reply to J_A says:

          My view is that claiming that we would defend countries like Estonia has done far more to destroy the credibility of NATO than any crap Trump has said. Arguably we’ve forced Russia’s hand (noise about Georgia joining NATO supposedly figured into Russian intervention there). Maybe the belief is that we can distract/bleed them in their own quagmires in Syria and Ukraine but neither fighting ISIS nor putting our own troops in harm’s way is consistent with that.

          Either there’s some dude puffing cigarettes in a back room with a diabolical but inscrutable agenda or the foreign policy establishment from Mattis to any plausible Clinton appointee has no idea what they’re doing. Hanlon’s razor points me towards the latter.Report

          • J_A in reply to InMD says:

            Either there’s some dude puffing cigarettes in a back room with a diabolical but inscrutable agenda or the foreign policy establishment from Mattis to any plausible Clinton appointee has no idea what they’re doing. Hanlon’s razor points me towards the latter.

            Because history and the agency of others is not something the American character has a lot of respect for, I agree it is the latter. I mean, why would we look at what has been happening during the last two hundred years when we can build our own reality?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

      This is a good comment.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

      I feel kinda bad that the Kurds are probably going to pay the biggest price for that failure, but it’s not the first time that’s happened either.

      Given that the Kurds don’t want to be peacefully spread across four countries and three languages, but instead want Kurdistan, Kurdish, and implicitly the authority to kick the Arabs, Persians, and Turks out, were there ever any long-term options besides (a) give them a country, (b) look the other way while they tried to take a country, or (c) abandon them?Report

  3. bookdragon says:

    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…

    That deserves a special place in the hall of fame for political burns.Report

    • dragonfrog in reply to bookdragon says:

      Best part is the target of the burn probably doesn’t realize it was a burn – you have to connect two ideas in separate paragraphs to get it.

      Well, first you have to read a whole page of text, then you have to retain the first idea long enough to connect it to the second.Report

  4. Kolohe says:

    One thing that bothers me about some of the overly effusive praise of Mattis is that he wouldn’t have within a country mile of President Hillary Clinton’s Pentagon.Report

  5. Marchmaine says:

    While Mattis is a well qualified SecDef, it is hard to rally behind his desire for the continued un- / barely-authorized invasion of Syria. If that’s the hill on which to he has chosen to die, then I’ll not mourn his departure.

    Of course, since it is Trump making the decision, I’ll allow for the decision to be made in the most contradictory and foolish fashion possible… but that doesn’t mean our overall trajectory ought *not* to be exiting Afghanistan (another point on which Mattis disagrees) and a better handling of Syria which means a coordinated foreign policy and authorization from congress – especially if the goal is regime change in Syria – which, depending on the day and whom we ask, the answer is yes.

    I’d like to hope that Mattis is really just arguing that the withdrawals ought be be handled differently… but from what I’m reading, he’s conducting foreign policy according to his (and the DoD) appraisals of what that foreign policy ought to be. And that I can’t back as a reason to resign… though I still can look with trepidation at the competence of Trump to appoint a successor.

    Since this is a Trump thing, I’m looking forward to scrambled negative partisanship signals… like Code Pink arguing that staying the course in Syria is really the best option.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

      like Code Pink arguing that staying the course in Syria is really the best option.

      We can’t let Russia win! Or Iran!Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Marchmaine says:

      It’s not surprising that someone whose entire life has been dedicated to fighting terrorists wants to go to the place the terrorists are coming from and fight them.Report

      • He’s a Marine, with a particular mindset. At least semi-seriously, what does putting modest numbers of Marine boots on the ground accomplish that couldn’t be done with satellites and high-flying B-52s carrying smart munitions?Report

        • Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Better and/or finer grained target discrimination.

          On the other hand, a greater chance for actionable war crimes.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Kolohe says:

            Also the certainty of a small but steady stream of American casualties, including deaths. Just because (a) IEDs and (b) helicopters are much more dangerous to the people riding in them than B-52s are. Although my own guess is that what brings the whole thing crashing down will be when they demand that the Ford-class carriers and F-35s be replaced, even though neither of them will have even been scratched in actual combat.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to DensityDuck says:

        It may or may not be surprising; but its certainly not advisable. Marines fight whom and where we ask, not the other way ’round.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck says:

        …wants to go to the place the terrorists are coming from and fight them.

        Wait, we’re bombing Saudi Arabia now?
        What’d I miss?Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    Mr. Peel of Twitter (who iirc used to be here in some capacity) raises a valid point

    But here’s the thing: Trump *is* defying the expert consensus here. And while it’s reasonable for an elected official to defy expert consensus, I need to believe that that leader has done the diligence.

    To put it mildly, I do not get that impression from Trump.

    (My response was)

    In this case though, the expert consensus has resulted in more failure than success, more cost than benefit, and often, a lack of consensus in the first place. It’s also most telling that the expert consensus was never willing to make an affirmative case openly to the American public. These operations in Syria have always been on the down low, only slowly revealed over the course of months. It’s only now, when the plug is being pulled, that the expert consensus is scrambling to make a case for continuing. And even at that, the main argument for staying the course still consists of muddling through indefinitely.Report

  7. Chip Daniels says:

    My concern :
    Trump, by doing the right thing in most stupid way possible, for the most incoherent reasons possible, may end up making the wrong thing look better by comparison.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Yup. And the foreign policy establishment may not have a ton of credibility, and may well deserve less than it has, but the alternative is… well… Trump.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

        To the extent that this is an aesthetic argument, I agree with it 100%.

        To the extent that this is a moral argument, I find it monstrous.Report

        • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

          It’s a lot closer to an aesthetic argument than a moral argument, but I’d probably describe it as an epistemic argument.Report

          • pillsy in reply to pillsy says:

            To expand: what we should do in Syria is (at least for me, since I’m a consequentialist) determined by the expected outcomes of our actions. Both withdrawing and staying will have good and bad effects.

            Do I have a lot of trust in the ability of the FP establishment to properly assess those effects? No.

            Do I have a scintilla of trust in Trump’s ability to do the same? Absolutely not.Report

          • InMD in reply to pillsy says:

            Here’s the thing though. At some point that establishment clique has to learn something and make a case for itself in light of those things. One of the more cogent Greenwald observations has been the onset of a weird foreign policy amnesia.Report

            • pillsy in reply to InMD says:

              It does, and its failure to do this is a major factor in how we got into this mess.

              Nonetheless, given that we are in this mess, it’s not like I believe for a second that Trump is gonna navigate us out of it successfully. Indeed, his presence in the Oval Office is a substantial part of the mess (and something that the FP establishment’s past failures contributed to).Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to InMD says:

              Here’s the thing, though: This is going to be reversed if Fox and Friends says to.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                2Kilmeade went on twitter last night and pushed for a delay.

                The thing is, everyone knows that arguing to remain in Syria/Afghanistan etc is a political loser – even among, *especially* among the Trump base.

                Of all the doublethink the Trumpenproletariat is capable of, the one thing they won’t tolerate is a ‘casual’ war. It’s only the lack of weekly (USA) casualities that’s allowed the Trump administration (and the semi-permanent Pentagon establishment) to get as far over its ski tips as it has.

                Eta – just about every other Trump friendly blog out there is like ‘I like Mattis, but I also like Trump’s decision on Syria and glad it was made)Report

    • North in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Perhaps, if we’re lucky, Trump will appoint some paleocon isolationist who has the policy chops to competently oversee disengagement from the middle east in general. There is that constituency present within his electoral alliance- maybe he’ll tap it.

      But considering how much sway the Saudi’s have over him I suspect this is a faint hope. The House of Saud has less than zero interest in the US withdrawing from the region.Report

  8. North says:

    I don’t agree with Mattis on much policy wise (too neocon for me) but I can acknowledge that he’s a unique fellow in that he is a Trump appointee who is leaving his job voluntarily and with his reputation and honor largely intact and un-besmirched. In this administration that’s a significant feat.Report