Jim and the Buried Lede (Mattis Matters for America)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016, in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems worth noting that we are actually through a particular looking glass:

One tense moment came last May as officials grew increasingly concerned about aggressive Iranian behavior.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.

“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.

(Jaffe and Ryan)

Something about buried ledes might go here, but, to be explicit: We are nine months into the period during which the National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps general, keeps the peace by refusing or ignoring the president.

Steve Benen notes—

There’s a chain of command within the executive branch—and within the military—and Mattis does not outrank Trump. But in practice, it’s quite likely that the Pentagon chief knows that the amateur president has no idea what he’s doing, and there are potentially dangerous consequences to giving Trump options he might want to act on, so for everyone’s sake, the responsible thing to do is to refuse some of the president’s most irresponsible requests.

—and while this sketch is entirely plausible, what point does that fact, in and of itself, fail to make? With bountiful chatter doubting Presdient Trump’s mental health, the idea that his needs are so dangerous the National Security Advisor is bucking the chain of command in order to keep peace kind of feels like a headline.

And it’s been going on at least since May.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post calls the insubordinate defense boss “Trump’s favorite general”, and wonders if the Secretary can “check an impulsive president and still retain his trust”.

It seems worth noting that around the time the Defense Secretary was ducking the White House on Iran, Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, writing for New York magazine, described James Mattis as “the last adult standing in Trumpworld”. This would also be about a month after the Pentagon carried out missile strikes against Syria, apparently under false pretense.

____________________

Image note: President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “Defense Secretary reportedly ignored Trump request for Iran options”. msnbc. 9 February 2018.

Jaffe, Greg and Missy Ryan. “Trump’s favorite general: Can Mattis check an impulsive president and still retain his trust?” The Washington Post. 7 February 2018.

Kurtz-Phelan, Daniel. “James Mattis Is the Last Adult Standing in Trumpworld. That’s Unsettling for a Lot of Reasons.” New York. 25 May 2017.

Wilie, Ian. “Now Mattis Admits There Was No Evidence Assad Used Poison Gas On His People”. Newsweek. 8 February 2018.

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