On Thursday, December 20, General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, wrote a powerful letter of resignation with many words of wisdom: “One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO's 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.”

Initially the President sent out a conciliatory tweet: “General… Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years…During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made…General Mattis was a great help to me…. I greatly thank Jim for his service!”  

But by Sunday Trump’s tone had changed dramatically, and he announced that Mattis would be gone by year’s end instead of on February 28th. He apparently did not appreciate the reaction by the press or the General’s further words of wisdom:

“Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

Unlike General Mattis, Trump believes that alliances make us weak and has done all he can to pull out of treaties and denigrate our allies. So slowly many of those advisors who also take the position that strong, respectful alliances are integral parts of our national security have left government service to the detriment of America and the world.

In the beginning the President loved “his Generals” and wanted many for advisors in his administration, not anticipating that most would have opinions that did not coincide with his own. Since Trump “knows” he is smarter than anyone else, he never has been inclined to take anyone else’s advice seriously, unless he agrees with it. Alas, these well-informed generals often did not agree with many of the President’s positions, and now all have left the administration: Air Force General Mike Flynn, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Marine Gen. John Kelly, and now Marine Gen. Jim Mattis.

Mattis’s resignation came shortly after Trumps’s announcement of the departure of our troops from Syria, a decision made without the consultation of our military leaders or allies. 

It should be noted that the leaders praising our departure from Syria are President Putin, President Erdogan and Bashar al-Assad, all authoritarian leaders whose influence in the Middle East will be greatly augmented when we leave. These countries and Iran will fill the void left by our departure.

Our President eschews daily briefings and ignores advice from his military or diplomatic experts, most of whom, like General Mattis have been dealing with military and international issues for decades, while the President has been making real estate deals and playing golf. Depth of knowledge rather than ideology and “gut instincts” are needed in our leaders, but sadly few with experienced insight and wisdom are clamoring to be part of our current chaotic administration. General Mattis has done an excellent job and his loss will be felt all over the world. 

-Catherine Rhoades is one of several individuals who write a weekly column titled Another Point of View for The Neosho Daily News.

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