Recently, the newly appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis, has been accused of being too moderate, even “too liberal.” Some have used the label, along with “neoconservative,” to allege that Mattis often does not “put America first” as President Trump does when it comes to foreign policy, that his priority is “a globalized world policed by the U.S.”
Others, more recently frustrated Republicans, have used the label to accuse Mattis of not “towing the party line” by opting to make appointments based upon merit, intelligence, experience and ability, as opposed to say, politics. (Doesn’t he know we won the election?). Either label is, in my humble opinion, a disservice to one who is first and foremost, a real American patriot.
In a fractured nation where the pendulum of American politics has swayed all the way to the fringes, on both sides, we see the center relocating itself more towards the far right to survive. Both the right and left are moving away from the moderate center that made America great. Obstruction, obfuscation and vitriol rule American politics. In the current political arena, would it be fair to say Mattis is too moderate, too liberal? Perhaps. But would it be fair to say the same by the standards of Republican presidents the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower or Ronald Reagan? Absolutely not.
SecDef Mattis is now functioning as a moderating influence on an inexperienced and “new-right” wing leaning President. James Mattis is functioning as an American.
The new administration came into a United States of America in disarray, both domestically and internationally. The exiting Obama administration left the Foreign Policy apparatus in disarray, with longstanding American dogmas having been fractured due to self inflicted acts, and the domestic political scene never before being as divided as it is today. Democracy is being threatened from within, and, with the help of Vladimir Putin, from without.
It was in this chaotic political landscape that James Mattis was asked, and agreed, to become the new Secretary of Defense. Certainly the “Warrior Monk,” intelligent and highly read, vis-a-vis the historical disarray of crumbling empires, knew what would come. Certainly a man who experienced the Cold War firsthand knows how critical political discourse and bi-partisan diplomacy are to a healthy democracy.
As such, it certainly came as no surprise that his reception by the general media, especially the so-called “new media,” was fractured. On December 15th the right wing leaning, pro-Trump new media outlet, “American Free Press” claimed that the recently retired USMC General known as “Mad Dog,” was a “liberal trojan horse” inside the Trump administration. A few weeks earlier, another right wing leaning outlet claimed that “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis terrified the Liberal left,” because of his war record and his dominant and “harsh” personality.
With only two months into his tenure, it became obvious neither assessment hits the mark.
He certainly has got a tough job, but it sometimes feels like he forgets that we won the election.
– GOP senator, Armed Services Committee, anonymously
When General Mattis agreed to operate in today’s fractured, political landscape, he was given a certain set of promises. One was that he would be allowed to elect his own minions, a promise the new President has been ill equipped to deliver. A promise that is now causing the established Republican leadership inside and outside the hallways of the Pentagon to reach for pitchforks and torches. In an act reminiscent of the one that outed then National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Flynn, people inside the hallways were ill equipped to bite their tongues, instead, feeling the need to voice their discontent to the outside, to the media. This discontent does not stem from Mattis being a bad leader, an incapable leader. Not at all. Instead, the discontent stems from a SecDef that will not settle for having political flunkies working for him.
General James "Mad Dog" Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General's General!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
In a recent article by Eli Stokols and Eliana Johnson at Politico, the authors note that, “Mattis has bristled at nominating people with political backgrounds, including Randy Forbes, a former Virginia congressman who was considered for secretary of the Navy, and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican with expertise in defense policy, whose name has been floated for several senior defense posts. Senior members of the Republican foreign policy establishment had been pushing for the nominations of both men, neither of whom was openly critical of Trump during the campaign. Mattis has instead opted for deputies with backgrounds in law, diplomacy and business.” In other words, those best qualified, not entitled.
A recent article in Conservative Review, bemoans the fact that the defense secretary “is reportedly pushing for another leftist from the Soros-funded Center for American Progress to join him at the Pentagon,” and that “Mattis also tried to nominate Obama loyalist Anne Patterson.”
No one that has observed Mattis’ stellar career should be surprised by any of this. He made no quarrel with his dismay of the political entity that the Pentagon is. He spoke often, and he spoke loudly, while going through the trials of his nomination of the need to de-politicize the inner workings of the Pentagon, to remove the vast divide of Democrat vs. Republican that exists in its hallways. In a bipartisan manner, Secretary of Defense Mattis has sought, first and foremost, to prioritize his overall goal – to secure the American democracy from its enemies.
One thing is certain. The goal sought by Mattis, and his refusal to sacrifice it for political gain, would meet the highest approval of Americans like President and retired General Eisenhower, or President Reagan, the fierce anti-communist, both of which would be labeled too moderate in today’s America.
John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, and founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC
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