The Jury Talks Back

9/15/2018

NYT: Mattis on His Way Out?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 7:04 pm

I’m almost done with the Bob Woodward book, and one thing it makes clear is that Jim Mattis is a calming influence in the Trump administration. When Trump wanted to do something stupid — like pull troops out of South Korea or Afghanistan, or kill a critical trade deal with South Korea — Mattis would step in and talk Trump off the ledge, calmly and respectfully.

Which makes this report extra distressing:

Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Trump still called his defense secretary “Mad Dog” — a nickname Jim Mattis detests — the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with his boss in the White House residence.

Mr. Mattis brought briefing folders with him, aides said, to help explain the military’s shared “ready to fight tonight” strategy with South Korea, and why the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has long been viewed as central to protecting the United States. Using his folksy manner, Mr. Mattis talked the president out of ordering torture against terrorism detainees and persuaded him to send thousands more American troops to Afghanistan — all without igniting the public Twitter castigations that have plagued other national security officials.

But the burger dinners have stopped. Interviews with more than a dozen White House, congressional and current and former Defense Department officials over the past six weeks paint a portrait of a president who has soured on his defense secretary, weary of unfavorable comparisons to Mr. Mattis as the adult in the room, and increasingly concerned that he is a Democrat at heart.

Mattis is often the voice of reason in the room. Woodward describes how Trump repeatedly questioned the need for Special Access Programs that would allow the U.S. to detect a North Korean nuclear launch in seven seconds from South Korea, rather detecting it 15 minutes after launch from Alaska. People would explain it, again and again, but Trump never seemed to understand. Trump asked this and many other stupid questions in one meeting, causing Mattis to explain: “We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III.” The gathered officials in that meeting were frustrated, as Woodward describes:

Among the principals there was exasperation with these questions. Why are we having to do this constantly? When is he going to learn? They couldn’t believe they were having these conversations and had to justify their reasoning. Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — “a fifth or sixth grader.”

Mattis is the adult in the room, and Trump is indeed the fifth- or sixth-grader that Mattis says he is, according to Woodward’s book. And we can’t afford to lose another adult. Back to the NYT:

The fate of Mr. Mattis is important because he is widely viewed — by foreign allies and adversaries but also by the traditional national security establishment in the United States — as the cabinet official standing between a mercurial president and global tumult.

“Secretary Mattis is probably one of the most qualified individuals to hold that job,” Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. His departure from the Pentagon, Mr. Reed said, “would, first of all, create a disruption in an area where there has been competence and continuity.”

Bad, bad news. I hope we make it through this guy’s administration without him blundering us into a major war.

UPDATE: In the interest of completeness, I should note that Mattis claims: “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.” John Kelly has said something similar about the things attributed to him. (The book also quotes Rex Tillerson as calling Trump a “fucking moron” as widely reported by others. Tillerson has never denied that.)

I don’t believe Mattis or Kelly. I think they have decided that keeping their positions is more important than telling the full truth about everything they have said about Trump. But I should note their denials.

4 Comments »

  1. I used to think the guy responsible for the nuclear football has one of the most interesting jobs in America because he has a front-row seat to the President grappling with problems and making historic decisions. Now I see it as one of the worst jobs.

    Comment by DRJ — 9/15/2018 @ 7:22 pm

  2. The drama of the job really pales in comparison to Michael Cohen’s work, doesn’t it?

    :)

    Comment by Dave — 9/15/2018 @ 10:45 pm

  3. UPDATE: In the interest of completeness, I should note that Mattis claims: “The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward’s book were never uttered by me or in my presence.” John Kelly has said something similar about the things attributed to him. (The book also quotes Rex Tillerson as calling Trump a “fucking moron” as widely reported by others. Tillerson has never denied that.)

    I don’t believe Mattis or Kelly. I think they have decided that keeping their positions is more important than telling the full truth about everything they have said about Trump. But I should note their denials.

    Comment by Patterico — 9/16/2018 @ 8:28 am

  4. My understanding is that one doesn’t become a general officer in the modern American military without a great deal of ability to always make oneself look like one has high competence and good character. Whether or not the officer is highly competent and of good character. I understand this is the key skill.

    I expect that a general officer has had a wide range of bosses, and has been very good at knowing what to do and say to get those bosses to give them very high evaluations.

    I do not expect that a general officer would accept a Cabinet position from Trump without realizing that Trump does not appreciate hard truths said about him behind his back. There are general officers who would be stupid enough to say such things about Trump when they were directly working for him. There are general officers who are undisciplined enough that they could not watch their tongues even if they needed to. Just as there are prosecutors feckless enough to try to charge an innocent man with something that technically isn’t a crime. There are general officers overconfident enough to not only say stuff that will get them fired, but do so in an obvious and outright manner that will not be closely held.

    I think it is credible that Trump could hire a general officer that does not respect Trump, but can still manage to keep their mouth shut about that fact. On the other hand, being openly known as ‘the adult in the White House’ seems to be a good way to get fired. I would not expect a general officer to be able to easily shed the habits of a career enough to successfully avoid that reputation.

    Comment by BobtheRegisterredFool — 9/20/2018 @ 12:25 pm

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