For almost two full years, James Mattis has provided the nation with a collective security blanket—and national-security-minded Republicans with a credible excuse. Whatever outrageous or weird or even suspicious things President Donald Trump might do, Mattis was at the head of the order of battle: an American through and through, untainted and uncompromised.
Now Mattis has quit. His letter of resignation stated explicitly that the secretary and the president disagreed about “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors.” It omitted the customary courtesies to the president: no statement that it was an honor to serve him, no words about common purposes, not even a final “Respectfully yours” before the signature.
What to make of Mattis’s challenge and warning?
So long as Mattis stayed on the job, Republicans in Congress could indulge the hope that responsible people remained in charge of the nation’s security. That hope has now been repudiated by the very person in whom the hope was placed. It’s James Mattis himself who is telling you that the president does not treat allies with respect, does not have a clear-eyed view of malign actors and strategic competitors.