by Shelton Bumgarner
When Donald Trump appointed Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense, I was still so angry about Trump winning that I struggled to figure out some reason to hate it. But, alas, now that time has wore on and I have calmed down some, I can see that for once Trump actually did something right. Though I have to note that this “right thing” was a not a policy choice but rather a personnel choice.
In general, I am completely, totally opposed to Trump’s policy with every fiber of my being. Trump is a national embarrassment and the worst president since at least Andrew Johnson, if not James Buchanan. So, with that in mind, I read with great interest the New York Magazine piece about Gen. Mattis’ role in the Trump Administration. I found the article good-to-great…and yet it wasn’t as pointed as I thought it might otherwise be.
The article makes the case that because Trump is, well, not only immature but nuts, the “Generals” like Mattis who surround Trump are potentially the only people that stand between the Republic and outright destruction. As the article states:
Trump himself — who avoided the draft because of a “temporary” problem with his feet — seems most interested in Mattis’s supposed barracks nickname (“Mad Dog”), no-nonsense speaking style, and “central casting” square jaw and steely visage. He is Trump’s “favorite,” joke White House officials. “I love the generals,” says Trump. Whatever the reason, it is usually lucky he does. He dropped lusty campaign-trail calls to reinstate water-boarding after Mattis told him torture doesn’t work. Iraq was omitted from the rewritten Muslim ban, thanks to reminders that American and Iraqi troops are together battling ISIS in Mosul. Military leaders helped puncture the idea of a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin. Mattis has flown around the world telling allies that the United States can still be counted on, an attempt to clean up messes of Trump’s making. “We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” he said on his first visit to Baghdad, contradicting Trump’s lusty campaign-trail calls to do just that. The only thing as compelling to Trump as a man in uniform is a man in a $10,000 suit.
Regardless, I continue to worry about the fate of the Republic despite the assured hand of Gen. Mattis. The New York Magazine article says as much itself, but I felt as though there wasn’t any particular aspect of the article that popped out to me as particularly well stated on the matter.
I left the article feeling like I did not quite know what the point of it all was. But I guess what they were trying to say was Gen. Mattis can only do so much. He’s not perfect and the damage that Trump as president could do to the Republic through sheer ineptitude far out way how Gen. Mattis might be able to protect it. Trump, according to the article, has given the U.S. military almost complete free reign. As the article itself states:
Yet their influence can go only so far. The military can execute a missile strike on Syria with efficient professionalism, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of a broader strategy. Mattis can block especially noxious personnel choices, but his alternative picks have been repeatedly rejected by the White House. At any moment, the best-laid plans can be upended by a predawn tweet or the preferences of a 30-something real-estate heir. While Trump may listen to his generals when they’re with him, he is just as likely to take cues from a lecture by Xi or a segment on Fox. And the role that hopeful outsiders have foisted upon Mattis and the military is one that runs counter to principles drilled into them over decades. They are as aware as anyone that it is not a healthy sign for a democracy, or for civil-military relations, when salvation comes in uniform.
Regardless, it doesn’t make me feel any better that Trump is so nuts that we have to put our hopes in the steady hand of a general like Mattis instead of, well, the president. That should worry all of us.