Micah Zenko takes a closer look at Mattis’ tenure as Secretary of Defense and finds lots to criticize:
In October and December, Mattis claimed that the United States was providing in-air refueling to the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, “so the pilots didn’t feel they had to make a hasty decision about the drop or not to drop, that sort of thing.” This was an attempt to rewrite history in real time, since protecting civilians was not the purpose of the refueling under former President Barack Obama or under Trump [bold mine-DL]. As the Central Commander James Votel explained to the Senate in March, refueling was necessary because it “gives us placement, it gives us access and it gives us influence … with Saudi Arabia,” adding, “They want this type of support, and they want to improve their capabilities.” It was not, as Mattis claimed, to prevent civilian casualties but to literally fuel an air campaign that ensured them by its systematic, indiscriminate nature.
Mattis said a number of false and misleading things about the U.S. role in the war on Yemen over the last two years. That isn’t surprising, since he was one of the leading advocates for increasing the US role in the war as soon as he took office. His spin about refueling Saudi coalition planes was probably one of the most ridiculous things he said about that role. As anyone could see from the results of the bombing campaign, coalition pilots were and still are regularly attacking civilian targets. Refueling practically guaranteed that there would be more civilian casualties, not fewer.
President Trump’s foreign policy appointments have frequently been difficult to reconcile with the views he has often expressed. The most disappointing was the appointment of John Bolton as National Security Advisor.
Bolton is a longtime and very vocal advocate of regime change and military initiatives overseas – particularly in the Middle East and certainly regarding our presence in Syria. He signed the Project for the New American Century’s 1998 letter advocating the invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In spite of subsequent events, he continues to support the decision to invade Iraq. He has also sought the preemptive bombing of both Iran and North Korea.
As the President’s closest foreign policy advisor, much of a National Security Advisor’s advice is confidential. Prevarication, poor advice, or failure to bring important issues to the President’s attention are not always apparent to outside observers.
The Los Angeles Times reports on the harm that sanctions on Syria do to civilians there:
The result, said Damascus-based businessman Naji Adeeb, is that legitimate business owners are being punished while close associates of the state, including those named in the sanctions, are still able to conduct deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“You just need a lot more resources to do a lot less, and if you do a transaction today you don’t know if you can do it again a month from now,” said Adeeb. “It’s an environment where only crooks and mafiosis can work.”
Much like the sanctions reimposed on Iran earlier this year, U.S. and other international sanctions on Syria are supposed to have exemptions for humanitarian goods. In practice, however, private firms don’t want to take the risk of running afoul of sanctions by mistake and choose instead to avoid doing any business related to Syria:
But the problem, explained Salah Ismail, the doctor in charge of Mujtahed’s emergency care section, is that foreign suppliers often don’t dare send anything to Syria for fear of triggering unexpected violations – a real possibility.
Even “targeted” sanctions have proven to be far too indiscriminate. It should not surprise us that it isn’t possible to wage economic war on a government without adversely affecting the civilian population. In the end, it is always the broader population rather than the regime and its cronies that suffers the most hardship.
The idea Mattis was the “adult in the room,” the moral and intellectual restraint on Trump’s evil wishes, is tired. We’ve been recycling that one for two years and more now, as various “adults” were christened as such and rose and fell in the eyes of the media – Flynn, McMaster, Tillerson, Kelly, and now Mattis (the media regards Pompeo and Bolton as “dangerous” and thus not adults. Nobody else seems to make the news.)
Despite these adults’ irregularly scheduled regular departures, there has been no catastrophe, no war with Iran or China, no dismantlement of NATO, no invasion of Freedonia. We can certainly argue over the rights and wrongs of Trump’s foreign policy decisions (for example, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement) as with any other president, but that clearly falls within the boundaries of standard disagreements, not Apocalypse 2018: Trump Unleashed. The big news is that none of the terrible things and in reality, tweets aside, very few of the small bad things, have come to pass. It’s almost as if all the predictions have been… wrong.
Somewhat unique to the Trump era is the idea cabinet officials, appointed by the President and who work for the executive branch, are supposed to be part of some underground #Resistance check and balance system. One pundit critically observed “If Trump holds to form, he will look for a new secretary of Defense who sees the job as turning his preferences into policy rather acting as a guardrail on his impulses.” Leaving out the hyperbole, isn’t that what all presidents look for in their cabinet, people who will help them enact policy?