The idea Mattis was the “adult in the room,” the moral and intellectual restraint on Trump’s evil wishes, is tired. We’ve been recycling that one for two years and more now, as various “adults” were christened as such and rose and fell in the eyes of the media – Flynn, McMaster, Tillerson, Kelly, and now Mattis (the media regards Pompeo and Bolton as “dangerous” and thus not adults. Nobody else seems to make the news.)
Despite these adults’ irregularly scheduled regular departures, there has been no catastrophe, no war with Iran or China, no dismantlement of NATO, no invasion of Freedonia. We can certainly argue over the rights and wrongs of Trump’s foreign policy decisions (for example, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement) as with any other president, but that clearly falls within the boundaries of standard disagreements, not Apocalypse 2018: Trump Unleashed. The big news is that none of the terrible things and in reality, tweets aside, very few of the small bad things, have come to pass. It’s almost as if all the predictions have been… wrong.
Somewhat unique to the Trump era is the idea cabinet officials, appointed by the President and who work for the executive branch, are supposed to be part of some underground #Resistance check and balance system. One pundit critically observed “If Trump holds to form, he will look for a new secretary of Defense who sees the job as turning his preferences into policy rather acting as a guardrail on his impulses.” Leaving out the hyperbole, isn’t that what all presidents look for in their cabinet, people who will help them enact policy?
Positions like Secretary of Defense exist to carry out the policies of the executive branch, offering advice and counsel of course, but ultimately are not independent actors. I can’t seem to recall anyone saying Donald Rumsfeld failed to control the worst impulses of George Bush, or was expected to do so. No, this is a role imagined into existence by a paranoid media streamlined now to condemn anything Trump does and praise the, well, opposite. Much media have been spent explained how it was good Mattis “slow walked” and stalled orders from his boss. In any other administration that would be called borderline insubordination; it is real chaotic when underlings don’t follow orders. People usually get fired for that. With Trump somehow it is labeled courageous. I do wonder how open Mattis would be for some of his generals slow walking a few of his own orders, you know, the ones they disagree with politically.
Funny thing, but here’s a partial list of things that happened when Mattis (and McGurk, below) was in senior leadership positions which did not call forward from him an act of conscience such as resigning: Bush starting the Iraq war based on lies, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Gitmo, torture, drone killings of multiple civilians. And Obama agreeing to forever hide torture, drone killing American citizens, invading Libya under…