Secretary of Defense James Mattis has dodged requests from Trump administration aides to sit down with the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends,” likely to avoid becoming ensnared in partisan issues.
Mattis, unlike other members of Trump’s cabinet, has gone out of his way to keep up neutrality, with one notable exception being his absence on the list of cabinet officials praising Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, The New York Times reports.
Most recently, the defense secretary has ignored weekly requests from Trump aides to appear on “Fox & Friends.” Mattis, in other words, makes a distinction between requests coming from Trump himself and requests coming from his aides. Mattis held a press conference May 19 at the behest of Trump to deliver information on the military’s progress against the Islamic State.
Mattis’ friends and colleagues tell TheNYT Mattis believes a politically neutral military is one of the best ways to keep a divided country from splitting at the seams. He instead prefers to work influence inconspicuously through one-on-one meetings with the president and sometimes also with Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mattis will, however, appear in public this week at Senate and House Committees on Armed Service to discuss a range of issues, particularly regarding Qatar — a Gulf Arab state recently on the outs with its neighbors over accusations that the nation routinely funds terror groups. There are currently more than 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops stationed in Qatar.
The issue is somewhat precarious. After Trump’s visit to Riyadh for negotiations, the president seemed to take credit on Twitter for the recent break in diplomatic relations between various Arab countries and Qatar.
On rare occasions, Mattis has slipped out his normal stance of political neutrality and criticized a sitting president. One notable example was his speech April 2016 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in which he blasted then-President Barack Obama for an interview he gave in The Atlantic.
“For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as freeloaders is nuts,” he said. However, Mattis was no longer in government service during that time.
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