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

Secretary Mattis finds himself in an unenviable position

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a decorated military veteran, was asked yesterday what he’d say to retired Gen. James Mattis, Donald Trump’s new Defense Secretary, about the White House’s Muslim ban. The congressman didn’t hesitate in his response.

“I worked for General Mattis,” Moulton explained. “I know him. There is no way in hell that he is supportive of this. He relied on translators for his life, just like I did. He understands what it means to put your life in the hands of an Iraqi or an Afghan. And he also knows that implicit in that is that they put their lives in our hands, as well – and now we’re abandoning them.”

Moulton added, “[W]hat’s frightening about this situation is it shows that people like General Mattis … clearly don’t have a voice in the Trump administration.”

That assessment is bolstered by revelations about how the president’s controversial executive order came to be. The New York Times reported overnight:
Jim Mattis, the new secretary of defense, did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon.

Mr. Mattis, according to administration officials familiar with the deliberations, was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted.
Mattis was, however, used as a prop when Trump hosted an event to unveil his executive order.

It’s enough to make one wonder whether the Defense Secretary, chosen in part because the president thinks Mattis has a cool name, is going to be satisfied serving in this administration.

Let’s not forget that it was Mattis, just six months ago, who said in reference to Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through the international system.”

Now the White House is implementing that policy, without consulting with their Defense Secretary, and while using Mattis to lend his credibility to the initiative.

It follows Mattis reportedly clashing behind the scenes with Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, which coincided with the president going out of his way to say publicly he disagrees with Mattis about torture, even if he’s grudgingly following the Pentagon chief’s lead on the issue.

This isn’t a recipe for institutional success. To be sure, there have been no rumors about Mattis eyeing the exits, but if you were a decorated retired general leading the Defense Department and you found yourself out of the loop, at odds with a president’s top advisors, and disagreeing with the president about key issues, how long would you be inclined to stay?