While the departure of General Mattis as Secretary of Defense came as a shock, looking back it shouldn’t have really been a surprise at all.
Most recently, Mattis had publicly defied Trump on the issue of sending troops to meet the migrant caravan at our southern border. Almost any statement Trump would make regarding the use of the military to secure the border was met by a significant walking back by Mattis, who opposed the idea from the start.
For example, when Trump publicly stated he would like to increase the number of troops sent to the border to 15,000, Mattis said he doubted he would send more than 6,000 and downplayed the security aspect of the troops being sent, saying most were in supporting roles. This is was in direct conflict with Trump’s public statements saying he authorized the troops to defend the border and themselves with force if need be.
And while this may have been the final straw in a relationship that had been souring for some time, Mattis is not without any blame here.
General Mattis is a beloved military figure and few can find someone who has a bad word to say about him. However, he forget that he was not the one in charge, Trump was. In an executive situation, if a staff member constantly has opposing views to those of the chief executive, they are probably not going to last that long and that’s what ultimately happened to Mattis.
So while the border back and forth between Mattis and Trump was mostly a pissing contest between two alpha-males, the other issues they disagreed on were much more fundamental to their core beliefs.
In January of this year when Mattis unveiled the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, he explained a shift in military focus away from fighting terrorism and instead focusing on fighting “revisionist” powers, which meant China and Russia.
In effect, this was meant to signal the start of a new cold war style era and one where proxy wars such as the civil war in Syria rage on almost indefinitely until a new proxy war is started somewhere else.
This is very much counter to Trump’s own beliefs and his campaign promises. Trump campaigned on ending most if not all foreign military intervention. And it appears as though the longer Trump worked with Mattis, the more he realized that Mattis is on the lookout for more military interventions and proxy wars around the globe, not fewer.
This doesn’t fit into to the Trump mantra of “America First”. Trump’s America first policy means that American primary interests come first and foremost. In the Mattis view of the world, America should get involved in shaping the future of other countries, sometimes via military interventions, in order to maintain our own role as the most dominant player on the global stage. It’s a fundamentally different worldview and one that caused an irreparable rift between Trump and Mattis.
Trump was also a little taken by surprise after having spent time working with several generals, including Mattis. He entered office thinking generals would be the most loyal of his staff, but he quickly learned they have their own agendas just like anybody else and they will work to promote their own ideas and try to derail ideas they disagree with, even if they come from the very top.
It was commonly believed that on several occasions Mattis took Trump’s ideas and purposely slow-walked them. Ideas such as a military parade and the creation of the Space Force were both widely reported to have been slow-walked and derailed by Mattis. Mattis used Pentagon bureaucratic red tape to slow these ideas down to a near crawl so they could never be realized.
There is no question that the military career of General Mattis is beyond reproach. But as Secretary of Defense, he placed the loyalty to his own ideological world-view above his loyalty to the President. And you can’t expect to last long if that’s the path you choose to take.
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