Sunday, December 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threw another tantrum over the fallout from his Syria pullout.

Three days ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis abruptly resigned in protest over Trump's decision to suddenly and unilaterally withdraw American forces from Syria. Mattis's letter of resignation was blunt and uncomplimentary, using diplomatic language but accusing Trump of weakening the United States through abuse of its allies and naïveté about Russia and China and other hostile or authoritarian nations. It was universally understood as a warning siren.

Trump appears to have needed a few days for cable news to tell him that Mattis was not going quietly, and that the letter was not a polite formality. (On the day of the resignation, apparently not having read or understood the letter, Trump cheerfully tweeted that Mattis was "retiring with distinction" after having made "tremendous progress.") 

By Saturday, though, Trump was furious, and today, he struck back, essentially firing Mattis two months in advance of the planned resignation date of February 28.

Mattis wrote in his letter that he had chosen that date so that the Defense Department would not be at a disadvantage in regularly scheduled meetings with Congress and NATO allies. But Trump, whose need for absolute personal loyalty above all else is well established, was irate that Mattis was receiving praise for the gesture and (in typical fashion) sent an intermediary to inform Mattis that he was being fired rather than permitted to resign.

The Washington Post summarized Trump's choice to replace Mattis on an acting basis this way: "Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has no military experience, no previous government experience and little experience with foreign policy."

Why does this matter?

  • Presidents need a lot more emotional self-control than this.
  • Appointees to the Cabinet should be chosen after due consideration of the qualified candidates, not chosen in haste and anger.