The position of Defense secretary has often been filled with prominent men with long records of public service. Names including Robert McNamara, Donald Rumsfeld, Caspar Weinberger, Richard Cheney and William Cohen come to mind. But with the possible exception of George Marshall, I can think of no other secretary with the level of popularity — almost a cult following — as Gen. Jim Mattis.
He is a true American warrior, in the best sense of the word, with honorable service leading Marines in the Persian Gulf War, the conflict in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq. His experience and no-nonsense approach gave instant credibility to President Donald Trump’s defense policy when Mattis was named to the cabinet in January of 2017.
He did an outstanding job during his tenure as secretary, and his letter of resignation — on principle — was another chapter in a life punctuated by acts of valor and honor.
Even so, his resignation is a good thing, both for the Trump administration and, more importantly, for the country as a whole. For all his competence and moral integrity, General Mattis has much more in common with the globalist elites than with those who wish to return to the type of foreign policy bequeathed to us by our forefathers and which served our country so well during the first century and a half of our existence.
In short, orienting our defense policy to serve our citizens first and foremost — putting America first — was not going to happen under Mattis. As he stated in his resignation letter, Mattis’ “core belief” is that America’s strength is “inextricably linked” to our “comprehensive system of alliances.”
Like Bill Clinton’s secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Mattis sees the United States as the “indispensable nation” for creating a global system to which all countries must adhere, regardless of the wishes of their own citizens — a “new world order,” in the words of President George H.W. Bush.
But this is not the vision to which millions of our fellow citizens responded when they elected Donald Trump as president of these United States. Rather, they looked in hope to a chief executive who would re-orient our foreign policy to the more humble and achievable goals of providing safety, security, and prosperity for the people of this country rather than continuing our shopworn approach of perpetual war for an ever-elusive utopian peace. “
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone,” said President Trump at his inauguration, “but rather let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”
Our president was merely taking a cue from the founding fathers’ understanding of foreign policy — men like John Quincy Adams, who noted that while America “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all … She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”
This is not “isolationism,” but rather realism. As our post-Cold War foreign policy has shown us, no nation is capable of righting all the world’s wrongs. In fact, our efforts to do so where our vital national interests are not involved, generally lead only to the creation of greater problems, as well as threats to our well-being where none existed before. A short survey of our involvement in the Middle East in the last few decades bears this out.
Mattis played an important role during his tenure as secretary. After the neglect of the Obama years, Mattis did an outstanding job in improving the readiness of our Armed Forces, as well as making his department more fiscally responsible. His warrior character and understanding of the troops were certainly a boon to morale.
But his view of America’s role in the world fundamentally differs from that of President Trump. Mattis still sees Russia as our greatest adversary, convinced as he seems to be that foreign affairs is a zero-sum game to determine which ideology triumphs in the end, rather than a tool to use to protect vital — and definable — national interests.
If press reports are to be believed — always a tricky proposition — Mattis had fundamental disagreements with our president when it came to our involvement in Syria. Like many globalists before him, Mattis could not envision a time when it was “safe” to bring our troops home once they got involved, because there is ever just one more enemy to vanquish or one more adversary to whom we must project our strength.
President Trump, on the other hand, realizes that when victory is achieved, the war is over, and so should be our involvement. Trump’s policies in Syria have led to the defeat of ISIS as a viable player in that part of the world.
True, ISIS still exists as a terrorist force, but no one fears the establishment of a fundamentalist caliphate across the Middle East, as some pundits did as recently as the last years of the Obama administration.
Bashar Assad appears to have come out on top of Syria’s civil war, and it is likely that the nations of the region, following the lead of the U.A.E, will come to recognize that fact, resulting in an end to the bloodshed in that corner of the world – something that would not have occurred had we insisted on the indefinite maintenance of a U.S. armed force in Syria.
The resignation of General Mattis, therefore, is not a sign of confusion and decay in the executive branch, but rather a hopeful sign that President Trump truly is committed to the vision he proposed while running for office — of an America that seeks peace and cooperation with all nations of goodwill while firmly defending our rights where — and only where — they come under attack.
Danny Toma served for over 22 years as a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State and was the author of “America First: Understanding the Trump Doctrine.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.