Dear Secretary James Mattis,
What on earth are you still doing in the Trump administration? Why haven’t you quit yet?
“Mattis is out of the loop and Trump doesn’t listen to him, say officials.” That was the headline to an online scoop from NBC News in late June. “The president,” reported NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, “has cooled on Mattis, in part because he’s come to believe his defense secretary looks down on him and slow-walks his policy directives, according to current and former administration officials.”
One colleague of yours from the Pentagon confirmed to NBC News that you’re “not in the inner decision-making circle anymore.”
What is the point of being the self-styled “adult in the room” if you’re no longer in the damn room?
So let me ask you this: What is the point of being the self-styled “adult in the room” if you’re no longer in the damn room?
Look, I have an admission to make: I may have been wrong about you. In March 2017, in my very first column for The Intercept, I argued that you were desperate for a war with Iran; I slammed your “recklessness” and called you a “hawk in hawk’s clothing.” However, as Politico pointed out at the start of this year, you have since “emerged as one of the administration’s chief voices of moderation toward Tehran.” (To be clear, though, I wasn’t wrong about your shameful military record: You’re still the Iraq War general who planned the murderous assault on Fallujah and refused to apologize for the bombing of a wedding party in Mukaradeeb.)
I may not have been a fan of yours, but your army of admirers in the media argued from the very beginning that your very presence in the administration — the serious, sober, scholarly soldier — would help restrain Donald Trump’s excesses. But where, pray tell, is there any evidence that you have succeeded in doing so? These days, the president isn’t just ignoring you — he’s making a fool of you.
Take Iran. You told Trump that he should stay in the Iran nuclear deal. In April, you even went to Congress and publicly praised the deal as “pretty robust.” Yet in May, according to two officials who spoke with NBC News, you discovered from a colleague that Trump had made his decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement “only after it was finalized” and without speaking with you beforehand.
Take transgender rights. In July 2017, as the New York Times reported, “President Trump abruptly announced a ban on transgender people serving in the military … blindsiding his defense secretary.” You were “on vacation,” according to the Times, and your friends claimed you were “appalled” that the president “chose to unveil his decision in tweets.”
Take the new “Space Force.” You wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October 2017, in which you said that you “oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting efforts.” Yet in June, again without warning, Trump announced that he was “directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.” The president made no mention of you, his secretary of defense, in those remarks.
Take the deployment of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. A senior White House official told NBC News that you opposed the decision to deploy the troops and told the president you “didn’t feel like the mission was well defined.” Yet Trump nevertheless signed a memorandum ordering the National Guard to protect the border.
Take North Korea. According to the NBC News report, you were “not expecting Trump’s announcement on June 12 that [joint military exercises with South Korea] would be canceled … and as a result had not notified the two commands most directly involved: U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korean military.”
How does it feel to know that the president told Kim Jong-un before he told you?
Do I really need to continue? How many more humiliations will you, a decorated general, endure at the hands of a draft-dodging commander-in-chief? How many more times are you willing to be made a fool of by this know-nothing reality TV star?
Trump fired your friend and fellow general, H.R. McMaster, and replaced him as national security adviser with the ridiculous bully John Bolton. He fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on the toilet. Isn’t it only a matter of time till he comes for you? So why wait? Why not leave on your own terms?
I find it astonishing that despite everything — the serial lying, the racism and bigotry, the human rights abuses at the border, the attacks on the free press, the cozying up to Vladimir Putin — there has not been one single resignation on principle from this administration. It suggests that I was correct to describe it as a kakistocracy — government, literally, by the worst people — back in January 2017.
Why not prove me wrong for the second time? Why not show the world that you at least have some principles? Some lines that you won’t cross?
Perhaps you think the moment has passed. Maybe you regret not resigning a year ago, when the president was publicly and shamelessly heaping praise on neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. “Very fine people” — remember that?
Remember also what you then told a group of U.S. soldiers stationed abroad: “Our country right now, it’s got problems we don’t have in the military. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it.”
Sorry, what? The United States isn’t going to get back “to understanding and respecting each other” while your boss is still in the Oval Office. You know that. You’re not stupid, Gen. Mattis. You’re the Warrior Monk.
Do it, Jim. Be the first Trump administration official to say “enough is enough” and resign on a point of principle.
So why not take a stand for “understanding” and for “respect”? Why not save what little of your once-hallowed reputation is left and quit this administration of liars, bigots, fascists, and fools?
Back in 2016, when you were flavor of the month, the Trump transition team’s formal biography described you as “the living embodiment of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis.” Those words, of course, mean “always loyal.” Trump, like the mob boss he pretends to be, values total and blind loyalty from his employees above all else — just ask James Comey. Yet you swore an oath to be loyal not to the president, but to the Constitution of the United States. To the rule of law. To the liberal democratic values of this country. Given your commander-in-chief is trampling over all of that, on a near-daily basis, isn’t it time to pen a letter of resignation? To show some of the “honor, courage and commitment” that are supposed to be the three core values of the U.S. Marine Corps?
Do it, Jim. Be the all-American hero your admirers have always claimed you were. Be the first Trump administration official to say “enough is enough” and resign on a point of principle.
Don’t be afraid of the angry tweets that will follow from Trump. Ignore the sniping from Fox News and Breitbart.
History will thank you.