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

The Hell of Gates

Despite his past association with the Obama administration, we’ve long had a fondness for the former Defense Secretary, Central Intelligence Agency director, and National Security Council member Robert Gates. It’s partly because he grew up here in Wichita, and partly because of his long record of distinguished service to every president since Nixon except for Bill Clinton, but now we can also appreciate him as a memoirist.
Gates’ “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” won’t be in the bookstores until for another week, but enough of it has been leaked to the press to create a fuss. Although the book reportedly contains some kind words for the current president, which seem to be the sort of thing one might expect from a man who has carefully guided his career of public service through administrations from both parties, Gates has also offered some pointed and apparently newsworthy criticisms. Currently getting the most attention are his observations that the president was not committed to the success of his “surge” strategy in Afghanistan, that both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted they had opposed a similar but more successful strategy in Iraq during the Bush administration only for political reasons, and that Vice President Joe Biden has been wrong about every major foreign policy issue of the past 40 years.
That last allegation prompted the White House to issue a statement calling Biden “one of the leading statesmen of his time,” providing the nation with a much-needed belly-laugh during this cold and bleak winter, but has otherwise the administration’s spokesmen has been cautious in their response. Gates was effusively praised for his service, vigorous debate and frequent disagreement within the administration was proudly admitted, and otherwise the spokesmen seemed content to let the press defend their president against such lese majeste.

Such a cordial reaction is probably best, as the administration has nothing to gain from further publicizing Gates’ book. Tell-all tomes by ex-administration officials are a staple of political non-fiction, and there are sure to be many more by Obama associates eager to disassociate themselves from his presidency, and in most cases they will quickly pass through the news cycle and be remaindered. In this case, though, the book raises points the president will be especially eager to ignore.

Gates’ book may soon be forgotten, but the failures of Obama’s foreign policy will be long remembered. There is nothing surprising about Gates’ revelation that Obama was not committed to success in Afghanistan, as the president has publicly ridiculed the very notion of victory, nor did any objective observer ever doubt that Senator Obama’s insistence on a premature surrender in Iraq was motivated by anything other than political ambition. We would have preferred that Gates had been similarly critical of Obama’s abandonment of allies in eastern Europe and South America and the Middle East, his groveling appeasement of the some of the world’s worst actors, and the general incoherence of his foreign policy, but perhaps he felt that was outside his duties as Secretary of Defense.
Whatever the literary and historical value of Gates’ book, he has done a public service even before its publication by forcing the media to at least briefly allude to foreign affairs. Obama put the lives of brave American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines at risk in Afghanistan without confidence that it would achieve anything in the country’s interests, and a war-weary public seems too satisfied to be getting out to be properly outraged about it, so it is good that the issue has at least been forced into the national conversation. The fledgling democracy that American forces gave birth to in Iraq might yet survive the latest onslaught by Islamist terrorists, but Gates deserves gratitude for pointing out that our erstwhile allies have to do it on their own for political rather than strategic reasons.
The debate should continue through the next presidential election, and much of the press already seems worried that Gates’ views will harm the chances of potential Democratic contenders Biden and Clinton. Even the sympathetic scribes at the McClatchy news chain had a hard time finding anything that Biden has been right about in the past 40 years, and it will take a most creative memoir by Clinton to disentangle from the messes created during her four years as Secretary of State. One book won’t win the debate, but this one seems to have started it well.

— Bud Norman