Editor's note: Thank you for reading our last 2018 edition! We’ll be back in full swing January 7th. Here’s to a restful and joyful holiday; see you on the flip side! ;)
The left is worried what Trump’s foreign policy will look like without Mattis’s stabilizing influence.
The right praises Mattis and laments his departure.
“[Mattis] reportedly stopped Trump from ordering the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a move that would’ve escalated Syria’s brutal civil war and brought the US much deeper into the conflict. He also ensured [that] Trump stuck to a diplomatic approach with North Korea rather than a military one. And he convinced Trump that torture was a bad idea… with Mattis gone, Trump is left with few if any moderating influences on his national security team.”
“The president will be hard-pressed to find a replacement who will instill confidence in Congress and the ranks of the military while still maintaining an effective relationship with the White House. Meanwhile, Mattis’s exit could even further strain relations with American allies, who have seen him as a calming influence and for whom he has often served as a direct conduit. In the end, Mattis proved to be the Trump administration’s most effective diplomat.”
“General Mattis commanded troops in some of the bloodiest fronts of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet he remained cleareyed in his opposition to torture, arguing that it was inhumane, illegal and ineffective… When Mr. Mattis decamps Washington in February, the United States risks a return to the so-called ‘dark side’ of its conduct after Sept. 11…
“Only the United States can really hold itself to account in how it engages with the rest of the world. And many other governments, good and bad, will continue to see the bar for conduct either being raised or lowered depending on America’s lead… Newly elected congressional Democrats and Republicans who place their country over their party will be an important check on the president and his war cabinet in such a scenario.”
New York Times
Many point out that “Mattis’s resignation is the latest sign of a fissure between Trump and the Republican establishment. In filling out his government in early 2017, Trump made several appointments that showed powerful constituencies in the Republican Party… He picked generals to run his foreign policy. He named the Republican National Committee chair, Reince Priebus, as his chief of staff and a former top executive of Goldman Sachs, Gary [Cohn], as his top economic adviser…
“But Trump seems less interested these days in placating establishment interests. He is pushing towards a government shutdown, an idea GOP leaders on the Hill haven’t embraced. He is rewriting U.S trade deals, despite Wall Street’s opposition. Now, he is parting ways with Mattis, who is well-regarded by the Washington establishment.”
“So long as Mattis stayed on the job, Republicans in Congress could indulge the hope that responsible people remained in charge of the nation’s security. That hope has now been repudiated by the very person in whom the hope was placed. It’s James Mattis himself who is telling you that the president does not treat allies with respect, does not have a clear-eyed view of malign actors and strategic competitors…
“In Syria, the United States is abandoning Kurdish comrades-in-arms who trusted America’s word. The U.S. is now preparing to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Brussels on December 4 to insult the European Union on its home ground… the question for Congress is: The Klaxon is sounding. The system is failing. What will you do?”
The right praises Mattis and laments his departure.
“U.S. allies… have relied on Mattis as a firm counsel at the president's side and a voice that kept the president attuned to the importance of institutions such as NATO… But perhaps the greatest loss here is that Mattis is by far the most versed Trump administration official when it comes to history and strategy. This gives him the ability to see threats as part of a continuum, rather than as single challenges in each moment… Mattis' resignation is a terrible loss to America and our allies.”
“Under the Trump administration, North Korean testing of missiles and nuclear weapons has all but stopped. A coalition of the U.S. and our allies has routed ISIS in Syria. China has been put on notice to stop its theft of intellectual property and unfair trade practices. And U.S. troops are forward-stationed in Poland as a show of force against Russia… Much has gone well in the Trump-Mattis partnership…
“We should take the secretary’s letter as a military after-action review of sorts, as I’m sure the general is accustomed to writing after every significant mission… What went well? What do we need to work on? In the ‘went well’ department, Mattis lists budget, readiness, and business practices as having improved. In the ‘work on’ department, he highlights alliances and peer competitors as challenges that will require work in the future.”
Some posit that “Trump’s beliefs hark back to pre-World War II Republicanism. Back then, the GOP favored immigration restriction, tariffs and keeping the United States out of foreign conflicts. Trump’s three most important deviations with current GOP orthodoxy, then, are actually a return to the old orthodoxy…
“I don’t share Trump’s unvarnished opposition to the postwar global order, but I do think he often asks the right questions. Our allies need to do more. Our military needs to be used less… Many problems in the world need U.S. power to fix, but many don’t. Trump’s breaks with consensus will likely intensify (Afghanistan, anyone?), and that will force defenders of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus to rethink the nature of that order. It’s a debate that is long past due.”
Others argue that “Mr. Trump entered the Presidency as a disrupter of the status quo, for which he has many fans. We include ourselves among those who believe the political status quo—here and abroad—was overdue for challenge… [but] Mr. Trump crossed over this week from considered disruption into a degree of political volatility that has the potential to raise the political risks for himself and U.S. interests.”
Wall Street Journal
Mattis “believes in treating allies like allies. And he is right to think that Trump does not seem to think that America has allies or needs allies… [Trump’s] calling card with his base is strength. But a series of pullouts from American commitments abroad, along with continued efforts to play footsie with North Korea and undermine of NATO, will not seem like strength to people across the globe who wish America ill.”
“Donald Trump is at a pivotal moment. He can heed General Mattis’s warning — delivered publicly, firmly, and respectfully — or he can continue down his current, reckless path. This letter represents America’s most-respected warrior telling the nation that he does not believe the president sees our enemies clearly, understands the importance of our alliances, or perceives the necessity of American leadership. We should be deeply troubled.”
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