Thursday, August 29, 2019


I regularly criticize The New York Times, but the paper made a proper editorial judgment when it placed this story on page A17 of the print edition:
Jim Mattis, who resigned last year as defense secretary, implicitly criticized the Trump administration in an op-ed published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, writing that the current political climate was dividing the country into “hostile tribes” and driving away longtime allies.

The essay is an excerpt from Mr. Mattis’s book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” which will be published Tuesday by Random House. While most of it is a reflection on leadership and public service, the essay delivers a harsher rebuke to the president’s leadership style than what Mr. Mattis initially penned in his resignation letter in December 2018.

“A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader,” wrote Mr. Mattis, who served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and rose to the rank of four-star general. “A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed.”

... words of critique in the excerpt are carefully phrased and never blame the president by name.

“What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness,” Mr. Mattis wrote in the excerpt. “We are 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.”
I'm sure the Times would have happily taken the op-ed and given Mattis's words much more prominence; the terrible placement in the paper was, in all likelihood, the result of ordinary professional jealousy. But if it was for the wrong reasons, this was still the correct placement: Trump might eventually post a few angry tweets about Mattis, but this doesn't wound him at all, especially when it's couched in David Broder-esque both-sides-do-it language.

And especially when Mattis is clearly not about to get into specifics:
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in a new interview he feels duty-bound to keep quiet his personal opinions of President Donald Trump’s leadership, but revealed his obligation to refrain from criticism of the current commander-in-chief is “not eternal.”

The revered former Marine Corps general ... invoked “the French concept of devoir de réserve” in a conversation with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg for a story published Thursday.

“The duty of silence," Mattis explained. "If you leave an administration, you owe some silence."

... Pressed on whether he bears a responsibility to warn Americans about a potentially unfit president, Mattis insisted it was inappropriate to “endanger the country by attacking the elected commander in chief.”

But Mattis also indicated he may soon more vocally challenge Trump or speak out about his time in the president’s Cabinet. “There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever,” he said.

General Mattis is endangering the country by not telling us what he knows. So is every other disaffected ex-Trumper. (Hey, whatever happened to the author of "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration"? We're coming up to the one-year anniversary of that nothingburger op-ed, which appeared on September 5 of last year. It was seen as a bombshell at the time. So what impact did it have?)

Veiled, diplomatically phrased, non-specific attacks on Trump don't motivate him to curb his behavior. They don't inspire reflection within his inner circle. They don't lead to second thoughts on the part of his allies in Congress or in the media. So what's the point?

Journalists, don't treat these teases as heroes. They should get into specifics about Trump's misrule or they go away quietly.

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