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Mad Dogs and Americans and the Noonday Sun

James “Mad Dog” Mattis is lately in the news again, and we welcome him back. The decorated war hero and four star Marine general and former Secretary of Defense has a book coming out soon, and judging by the pre-release excerpts it’s a rather scathing critique of the foreign policy of a conspicuously unnamed sitting President of the States, which strikes us as another brave and patriotic act in a long and distinguished career of public service.
Already both the left and the right are prepared to pounce on his previously impeccable reputation, of course. The left will never forgive him for volunteering to serve in the administration of the hated President Donald Trump and failing to call the president out by name, and the newly reconstituted right will never forgive him for trying to restrain the beloved president’s all-knowing gut instincts. So far as we can tell, though, he’s been a principled man to today.
Mattis came into the Trump administration with high praise from his new boss, who seemed to relish Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog,” although Mattis himself hated it, and Trump liked the straight-from-central-casting lean physique and wizened visage Mattis wore, but the two never got along. Mattis was accustomed to military order and a by-the-book way of doing things, while Trump clearly preferred a more chaotic management style. Mattis’ much-decorated combat experience in Vietnam and his advanced studies at the National Defense institute and his experience as commanding general of the Central Command of the North Atlantic Treaty organization had convinced him that strong alliances with the world’s leading democracies are vital to America’s national security, while Trump’s gut instincts told him that our NATO allies were a bunch of deadbeats free-riding on global trade arrangements, and he actually said out loud that he knew far more about NATO than the four-star general and former commander of the NATO alliance ever did.
Mattis eventually resigned with an exquisitely worded letter when Trump dismissed his advice against a precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Syria, which pretty much everyone was urging against, and from which Trump later backtracked. By that time the lieutenant general of the army H.R. McMaster had resigned as national security advisor, which came after he’d taken over from lieutenant general Michael Flynn’ after his resignation and conviction on felony charges, and there had also been the resignation of former Marine general John Kelly, who had clashed with Trump as White House Chief of Staff  because of his efforts to impose some sort of discipline on the White House. Trump once bragged about all of the generals who answered to him in the White House, but one by one he grew annoyed by their military tendency to tell him things he didn’t want to hear.
The left doesn’t much like military people in the first place, especially those who volunteer for service in the Trump administration, but the more sensible and centrist sort of leftists did develop a begrudging respect for the likes of Mattis and McMaster and Kelly, if not Flynn, who no longer has any friends on any side as he holds out hope for a presidential pardon. They were considered the adults in the room, the serious sort of educated and experienced men who had spent their careers contemplating the complex issues of national security, and even the most military-hating sorts of liberals hoped that they’d somehow rein in the gut instincts of Trump, which don’t seem to anyone at all well-informed.
The left still resents the exquisitely worded way all of them have gone about lambasting Trump’s policies and managerial style, without mentioning any names, but they don’t understand that the generals still feel constrained they rigid rules of military protocol they had lived their lives by. Nor does the left understand the time-tested wisdom of those rules. Trump is still the Commander in Chief, as much as that might drive the left and the generals and any seasonable person crazy, so we should all be grateful than even without mentioning any names and despite the exquisitely worded prose Mattis is plainly warning the country he long served about Trump’s gut craziness.
Based on Mattis’ carefully worded resignation letter and previous few public statements and the excerpts from his forthcoming book, he seems to believe that Trump’s penchant for fighting “twitter” feuds and trade wars and demands of protection money from such longtime and steadfast allies as Canada and the United Kingdom and Germany and Denmark and Japan and South Korea are not a good. Nor does Mattis seem to like the way Trump has “fallen in love” with the North Korean dictator and has nothing bad to say about the Russian dictator, and otherwise tends to prefer authoritarian regimes to democratic governments, and has little regard for the hard-earned international rules that have mostly brought us and the most of the rest of the rest of the world relative peace and prosperity..
This seems sound advice to us, although we lack Mattis’ educational credentials and hard-earned experience in war and peace, or Trump’s infallible gut instincts. None of the Democratic alternatives to Trump seem interested in repairing alliance or opposing adversaries, and none seem likely to solicit the carefully considered and exquisitely worded advice of the military’s best minds, but here’s hoping the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

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On the Lull Before Christmas

According to longstanding American political tradition the final days of a lame duck Congress and the last few days before Christmas are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s newfangled conservatism such longstanding American traditions have been jettisoned. Thursday brought news that Trump’s defense secretary has resigned in apparent protest of Trump’s derided-by-almost-everyone decision to withdraw a small but effective force from Syria and Afghanistan, Trump and his remaining allies in the temporary Republican House majority are threatening to force government shutdown over Trump’s derided-by-almost-everyone insistence on a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, and largely as a result the stock markets had yet another dreadful day instead of the traditional “Santa Claus rally.”
The resignation of Defense Secretary and former four-star Marine general James Mattis struck us as the most worrisome development of the day. Despite the “Mad Dog” nickname that Trump seemed to love, Mattis was well regarded by both the center-left and center-right consensus that had successfully guided through the Cold War and has done about as well as can reasonably be expected with the resulting and relatively low-level wars against Islamist terrorism, and his departure leaves him pretty much without any of those wise old hands.
Flynn resigned from his post in record-setting time after being charged with felony perjury charges and making admission to administration that he’d lied about his contacts with Russian officials, and he’s currently awaiting sentencing from a judge who has openly wondered in court why he’s not being charged with treason given all the credible accusations of undisclosed shady dealings with the Turkish and Russian governments, despite the special counsel investigation into the whole “Russia thing” pleading he should get no jail time because of his cooperation, which also doesn’t look good for Trump. He was replaced by McMaster, who didn’t last much longer, reportedly because Trump was annoyed three-star general’s know-it-all attitude during the daily briefings. The post is now held by John Bolton, a President George W. Bush holdover from the late and lamented Republican establishment who’s a bit more aggressive about American internationalism that even our Reagan-esque tastes would prefer, but he’s also advised against Trump’s Syrian withdrawal and might be on the way out.
The four-star chief of staff Kelly has also been pushed aside, reportedly in part because he didn’t get along with Trump’s favorite daughter and son-in-law, and he will temporarily be replaced on a moonlighting basis by acting Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney,  who will also be charged with deciding which agencies should be shut down in case of a partial government shutdown. Whatever advice Trump might be getting from the son-in-law in charge of everything from Middle East peace and the opioid crisis and re-inventing the federal government, and whatever  remains of the rest of his staff about domestic policy, the unpopular president has apparently committed to an unpopular partial government shutdown over Christmas to get a few billion in funding for his unpopular idea of a big beautiful wall along the entire Mexican border, and we don’t see that turning out well. In a few weeks the House of Representatives will install a significant Democratic majority with no political or ideological reason to fund Trump’s big beautiful border wall, much of the slight Republican majority in the Senate is already in revolt over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and other foreign policy matters, political realities almost always prevail, and without any generals or wise old hands backing him up he seems in a weakened position.
The stock markets seem to agree, given their recent dour mood, and although Trump can plausibly partially blame that on the damned Federal Reserve Board chairman he did appoint the guy, and after what looks to be losing year on the exchanges, which can also be plausibly blamed on the yet-unwon trade wars Trump had declared on our erstwhile allies, but for now Trump  can no longer brag about delivering the best economy ever. No one’s currently predicting a recession, and we’re certainly hoping for one, but the best that all establishment forecasters are predicting is the same sort of slow but steady economic growth that has been the bipartisan norm over the decades. Perhaps Trump will eventually prove smarter than all those multi-starred  generals and economists and the newly-elected Democrats in the House of Representatives and all of us old-fashioned Republicans, as well as  the Syrian and Russian and Iranian dictators, but for now only the true believers who still shot up at the ongoing rallies  in those “Make America Great Again” ball caps seem to be betting on it.

— Bud Norman