Former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General Jim Mattis didn’t get one of his many nom de guerres – the “warrior monk” – by accident. Known as a deep thinker and voracious leader, the general is suggested to have a personal collection of thousands of books. Mattis is also known for his decisiveness. In his book Call Sign Chaos, then Major General Mattis wrote that after seeing poor operational tempo from one of his Regimental Combat Team (RCT) commanders during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the general relieved him “on the spot.” Although this action was preceded by days of observation and recollection, Mattis wasted no time when pressed for a decision.
Now, Jim Mattis has come out and not only offered support for the racial protest movement but directly attacked Donald Trump, saying that the president “tries to divide us.” There is no more important time than now to stand against racial injustice and be concerned about the possible use of the active military in America’s cities. My question to General Mattis, and other former officers and respected civil servants, is: did it really take this long to come to this conclusion?
From the day Donald Trump took office, his policies and rhetoric have served to divide this nation. Remember the debate over the size of his inauguration crowd, where his administration swore that his crowd was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”? How about the Women’s March that occurred the day after the inauguration, where the president quickly flipped the debate to attack the media, assuming they would not cover the forthcoming “Right to Life” march with the same diligence. Later in the summer, following the neo-Nazi chaos over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Trump, spoiling an opportunity to unify the nation and take a stand against racism, instead insisted that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the protest. This was all within the first year.
Then there was the “Muslim travel ban” and then the horrific “family separation policy” at the border, where the administration inhumanely separated children from parents in a policy that still has thousands of families awaiting reunification. Children in cages, fear mongering about migrant “caravans,” and the abandonment of critical global responsibilities to international well-being – all early Trump administration policies. Jim Mattis, former Marine John Kelly, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster were all key members of the administration during this time. Was it not apparent then that Trump was “dividing” America and destroying the country’s moral fabric?
More personally, the president has, since the beginning, voraciously and individually attacked any public official, current or former, who seems to have any disagreement with him. The media quickly became an “enemy of the people” as opposed to a worthy contender in the open sphere of democratic political debate. His attacks include civil servants of the federal government, members of the so-called “swamp.” He also is running one of the most corrupt White House’s in recent memory, is a chronic liar, and he openly sought foreign assistance for his personal political gain. Was Trump not then “dividing” America or worthy of a chastising response?
Today, as the United States is at a historical inflection point while confronting a triple crisis the likes of which have not been seen in decades (pandemic, economy, and racial), it is important for respected leaders such as General Mattis to call out the president’s failures and offer hope and words of guidance. And, there is merit to the argument that the United States was better served having the likes of Jim Mattis in the administration to help curb Trump’s worst inclinations.
Yet, the decision by Mattis, Kelly, and others to willingly and enthusiastically serve his administration also helped to reinforce the president’s worst instincts. The fact that immoral policies and Trump’s vile character code only now caused alarm brings to question the judgment of senior military leaders, like Mattis, who served at the pleasure of the president.