January 13, 2017


Can Mad Dog Mattis Save America from Trump? (John Cassidy|Jan. 12th, 2017, The New Yorker)

[Warren] got Mattis to confirm some remarks he made in May, 2015, when he said that Russia was trying to create a sphere of unstable states along its periphery. Warren asked Mattis if he would advocate forcefully to the President--here again she didn't use Trump's name--about the need to take seriously the threat that Russia poses. Mattis said that he would.

"Thank you very much," Warren said. "I hope that is right, because if you end up in this job, our national security may well depend, in part, on your willingness to voice your opinions even when others disagree, even when you are under pressure to remain silent. We are counting on you."

Other Democrats on the committee weren't as explicit as Warren, but the thrust of the views they expressed was very similar to hers. Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal started out by saying that he was "extremely concerned" about violating the principle that the armed forces should be under civilian leadership. (The last time the Senate granted a waiver to an ex-military commander was in September, 1950, when Harry Truman nominated George Marshall, who had served as the Army's Chief of Staff during the Second World War, as Defense Secretary.) But, Blumenthal went on to say, "if there were ever a case for the waiver of that principle, it is now, at this moment in our history."

Virginia's Tim Kaine, fresh from his failed Vice-Presidential bid, said he agreed with Blumenthal that "this was an opportune moment to make an exception." Michigan's Gary Peters was even more effusive. "Thank you, from a grateful nation," he said to Mattis.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Mattis will be only one of Trump's many advisers, and one with less access to him than Flynn, whose job will require him to see the President on a daily basis. The faith being placed in Mad Dog could well turn out to be excessive. But, for one day at least, he provided Democrats and other Trumpophobes with reason to hope that all may not be lost.

Although Mattis didn't directly contradict any of Trump's statements during his testimony, he came close when he talked critically about Vladimir Putin's ambitions, noting that he had "very modest expectations about areas of coöperation" with the Russian leader.

More broadly, Mattis defended the traditional American strategic posture of constructive alliance-building backed by overwhelming military power. While a revanchist Russia represents a principal threat, he said, the United States needed to remain engaged all over the world. Several times he defended NATO, which Trump has criticized, calling it perhaps the most successful military alliance the world has known. "If we did not have NATO today, we would have to build it," he said. He expressed skepticism about the nuclear agreement with Iran, but also said that, because it had been signed, the United States had an obligation to respect it. "If you give your word on something, you live up to it," he said.

Although the Republicans on the Committee weren't quite as gushing toward him as the Democrats were, they, too, struck a respectful note. (The exception was South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, who snapped his questions at the nominee and tried, unsuccessfully, to goad him into saying that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel.)

Posted by at January 13, 2017 12:45 PM