It’s time we revisit that famous op-ed of yours.
In September, you acknowledged that you were a member of the “quiet resistance” within Donald Trump’s administration. You told us that you and others were “working diligently” to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” You said that while you agreed with many of the president’s policies, you were appalled by the president’s amorality, his chaotic management, his “repetitive rants,” his fondness for dictators.
You also believed that your efforts to resist Trump were often successful. On foreign policy, you noted, the administration’s policies were far more sober and serious than the president’s reckless rhetoric.
You were wrong. This week proves it. Assuming you haven’t departed the administration already, now would be the time for you to go. Ditto for all of your fellow “resisters.”
This is the central lesson of James Mattis’ stunning resignation Thursday. Secretaries of defence come and go — we’ve had five in the past eight years — and some of them run afoul of the president they serve.
But Mattis is the highest-ranking Cabinet member to resign over differences of policy and principle since Cyrus Vance quit the State Department in 1980 after Jimmy Carter’s Desert One fiasco. He is the only defence secretary to leave this way since the position was created in 1947.
Mattis resigned because he no longer shares your analysis. He no longer believes he can be a steadying or blocking force in the councils of government because it isn’t clear there are “councils of government.” Donald Trump made a snap decision to remove US troops from Syria following a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He did so over the unanimous objections of his national-security team. He did so after leading members of that team had said publicly and recently that the US would not withdraw.
A president who sticks it to his own team while sticking with a foreign strongman is not worth sticking by.
Mattis also resigned because he has concluded that the problem with Trump isn’t that he’s an empty vessel. It’s that he’s a malignant one.
Here was the fundamental mistake in your view of Trump: You thought he could be handled. You thought of him as a child who simply needed to be kept away from dangerous toys, as former economic adviser Gary Cohn did when he removed a letter from the president’s desk ordering the end of the Korea-US free trade agreement.
But our Commodus in Chief isn’t just an irascible buffoon whose worst impulses can be confined to Twitter but whose policy instincts largely align with yours. Trump thinks of himself as a man of ideas. Withdrawal from Syria, along with partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, is consonant with the quasi-isolationism he’s preached for decades. He is sympathetic to Erdogan, as he is to other tyrants, because he is indifferent to considerations of human rights and civil liberties.
Above all, he’s against “meddling,” whether it’s meddling in the affairs of others — or having others meddle in his. The Trump Doctrine is the doctrine of unaccountability.
It’s also the doctrine of dishonour. And this is what should most concern you and whatever is left of your in-house resistance. The United States is about to abandon our allies to the tender mercies of thugs. We are breaking our word to those who helped us decimate the Islamic State. We are standing aside so that Erdogan, Bashar Assad, Vladimir Putin and the Taliban can roll in, and ISIS can fight on.
For Mattis, who became a Marine during the Vietnam era, memories of what befell our betrayed allies from that conflict can’t be far from his mind. Nobody should expect the secretary to carry out a policy that would keep him from looking a comrade-in-arms in the eye.
So it is with you, Anonymous, wherever you might work in the administration. Until now, you may have convinced yourself that real honour lay in putting up with it — with the craziness of your boss and the disdain of your neighbours — because the good of the country (as you see it) demanded it. And until now, you had Mattis to serve as your role model.
But Mattis is going. And the argument can no longer be sustained. If Trump is capable of doing this to Mattis, what’s to keep him from soiling your carpet, too? And even if he never gets to it, you must know by now that you are no longer keeping a bad thing from getting worse. All you are doing is disguising how bad it is, thereby helping it to become worse.
Trump will never have trouble surrounding himself with ambitious and unscrupulous flunkies. Do you want that to describe you? Get out while you still can, whoever you are.
© 2018 New York Times News Service