The resignation letter of Secretary of Defense James Mattis that was published last Thursday revealed much of the Deep State mindset that has produced the foreign policy catastrophes of the past seventeen years. Mattis, an active duty general in the Marine Corps who reportedly occasionally reads books, received a lot of good press during his time at Defense, sometimes being referred to as "the only adult in the room" when President Donald Trump's national security and foreign policy team was meeting. Conveniently forgotten are Mattis comments relating to how to "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet." His sobriquet in the Corps was "Mad Dog."
In the media firestorm that has followed upon General Mattis's resignation, he has been generally lauded as a highly experienced and respected leader who has numerous friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Of course, the press coverage should be taken with a grain of salt as it is designed less to praise Mattis and more to get at Trump over the decision to leave Syria, which is being assailed by both neoliberals and neoconservatives who believe that war is the health of the state.
The arguments against the Trump decisions to depart from Syria and downsize in Afghanistan are contrived for the most part and based on the premise that American intervention in places that Washington deems not to be sufficiently promoting democracy, rule of law and free trade is a good thing. Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria, put it nicely when discussing the reaction in the media: "Trump's critics…will have the vapors about 'losing ground to Russia', 'making Iran's day', and 'abdicating influence,' but their criticism is ill-founded. Contrary to their apparent belief, the US does not have a God-given right to send its forces anywhere on the planet it deems fit. Withdrawal will see the US in one respect at least follow the international rules-based system we are so fond of enjoining on others, and will therefore be a victory of sorts for upholders of international law."
The central argument of the Mattis resignation letter that is being cited by critics relates to Washington's relationship with the rest of the world and is framed as a failure by President Trump to understand who are friends and who are enemies. Mattis wrote
"One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.