WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is warning that bitter political divisions threaten American society, saying he views “tribalism” as a greater risk to the nation’s future than foreign adversaries.
retired Marine general, who resigned in December 2018 in a policy dispute with
President Donald Trump, said he worries about the state of American politics
and the administration’s treatment of allies.
know that we’re better than our current politics,” Mattis wrote in an essay
adapted from his new book and published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.
“Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our
own commons seems to be breaking apart.”
said the problem is made worse by this administration’s disregard for the
enduring value of allies, which he alluded to in the resignation letter he gave
Trump on Dec. 20.
with allies thrive,” he wrote in the Journal essay, “and those without them
wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time,
we can see storm clouds gathering.”
apparent reference to Trump, Mattis added: “A polemicist’s role is not
sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that
incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble
is breaking months of public silence as he promotes his new book, “Call Sign
Chaos: Learning to Lead,” which is scheduled to be published Sept. 3. He is to
discuss the book in an appearance next Tuesday at the Council on Foreign
Relations in New York.
citing Trump by name, Mattis suggested the administration and its strongest
critics are engaged in destructive politics. He said he worries more about
internal divisions in American society than about external threats.
dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and
a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our
common ground and finding solutions,” he said.
Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment — and one that
can be reversed,” he wrote, adding, “Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy
longtime colleague, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, was asked at a Pentagon news conference whether he agrees with Mattis
that political tribalism in the U.S. is threatening democracy.
said he is careful to remain apolitical and would not make judgments about
Trump. He said the military has managed to avoid politicization, despite a few
lapses, during what he called “a very politically turbulent period of time”
since Trump took office.
his reasons for leaving the Trump administration, Mattis offered a slightly
more pointed explanation than he outlined in his resignation letter.
concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our
allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I
felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution,” he wrote.
who had never met or spoken to Trump before the Republican president-elect
interviewed him for the Pentagon job in November 2016, quickly became known as
a leading voice of reason and stability in an administration led by an
impulsive president unfamiliar with the tools of statecraft and dismissive of
resigned shortly after Trump announced he was pulling all U.S. troops from
Syria. In Mattis’ view this amounted to betraying the Syrian Kurdish fighters
who’d partnered with American troops to combat the Islamic State group. Trump
later backed away from his decision, allowing a portion of the U.S. force to
remain in Syria in what the Pentagon sees as an effort to prevent a resurgence
of the Islamic State group.
resignation letter, Mattis emphasized the value of allies and suggested that
Trump had been irresolute and ambiguous in his approach to Russia and China.
said after Mattis left Dec. 31 that the former Marine general had done a poor
job managing the war in Afghanistan. He turned down Mattis’ offer to stay at
the Pentagon until February to ensure a smooth transition, instead telling
Mattis to leave right away.