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Mattis, at least, has a world view with historic context

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Posted on February 20, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



Congressional Republicans and recently appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis have the opportunity in Michael Flynn’s replacement as national security adviser to shore up America’s defense against Russia and solidify its commitment to America’s international alliances. To do that, they must ensure Trump’s next pick for national security adviser hones closer to Mattis’ view of the world, and is a seasoned professional with an understanding of international affairs.

Mattis, a retired Marine general, won easy confirmation as a military veteran who understands Russian aggression, the importance of strong international alliances, has hawkish views on the Middle East, and has pressed for increased military spending.

In his confirmation hearings last month, Mattis made it clear that Russia was intent on weakening NATO, and since its invasion of Crimea and the Ukraine in 2014, has become a more aggressive menace on the eastern European border. In those hearings, he reaffirmed his strong support of NATO as well as support of the Pentagon’s European Reassurance Initiative, initiated under President Obama, which has added military power in Eastern Europe in response to concerns about Russian pressure on the Baltics, a move Russian President Putin has criticized.

“The most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with in Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps . . . to defend ourselves where we must,” Mattis said in comments reported by the Washington Post.

While supporting NATO, Mattis is also committed to getting member countries to pay their fair share, a common complaint of Mr. Trump’s, as it was of President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush — both of whom made similar pushes to get European allies to carry more of the load, with some success, including getting all members to agree to pledge at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense spending. Still, of the 28 member nations, only 5 have risen to that level of spending: the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, Greece and the United States. Major members of the alliance that contribute under 2 percent include: France (1.78 percent), Turkey (1.56), Germany (1.19), Italy (1.11) and Canada (.99). Other member nations have pledged to meet the 2 percent threshold, but not until 2024. Mattis has asked those nations to step up their efforts, and is using Russia’s recent aggression, the threat of terrorism and America’s waning patience, as reasons it is important to make that commitment sooner than later.

“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis told NATO ministers at a meeting in Brussels this past Wednesday. “Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do.”

Too harsh? Not at all. According to the Washington Post, “NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg sought to downplay any suggestion that Mattis’s message constituted a threat, saying that the United States was simply pressing its allies to live up to their own commitments.

What’s important is the different approach and perspective Mattis has compared to Trump. Where Mattis is able to articulate a clear policy, while also reassuring support of vital alliances, Trump is flippant, creates fear among allies and sends mixed messages of opportunity to our foes (go ahead and attack, we won’t resist) of which Putin has already taken advantage with recent attacks in the Ukraine.

If Congressional Republicans want to exercise some control over Trump’s chaotic presidency, they could start by insisting Trump’s next pick for national security adviser is thoroughly vetted, and hones closer to the mold of Mr. Mattis, who demonstrates a grasp of historic context. “History is clear,” he said in his confirmation hearings: “Nations with strong allies thrive and those without them wither.” That, at least, is three steps ahead of Trump and Flynn, and reassures Americans that their most important allies will not be tossed to the wind, while Trump pursues his unwise  flirtation with Putin.

— Angelo S. Lynn

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