Sure, Mattis doing great compared to Tillerson, but that is like saying that I am a sprinter when compared to a decomposing corpse. I cried on twitter:"What you need, frankly, is a diplomatic equivalent of Jim Mattis." https://t.co/MH9dvA7PW1— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) October 7, 2017
What evidence do we have that Mattis doing a great job?I am waiting.... Sure, Mattis hasn't sucked up to Trump, and Trump seems to pay him much respect because Trump has a fetish for guys in uniforms. But how are things at the Pentagon? How are our wars going?
So far, heaps of accidents--ships crashing, soldiers dying in training. The US forces around the world are killing more civilians. Every war seems to be escalating. The US military's response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico has been slow. Oh, and how is the state of US civilian-military relations? Trump seems to have abdicated responsibility, which is actually bad from a civ-mil standpoint. He keeps referring to "his generals." Meanwhile, the generals are speaking truth to power in front of Congress, saying that they don't want a transgender ban, that they don't support Trump's other policies, but Trump keeps doing those things anyway. Oh, and the anti-immigration efforts of the White House keep on harming the US military's ability to recruit.
So, how is Mattis doing a great job? Is it because we don't know how much worse it might be if he were not around? That counterfactual can only work for so long. Maybe someday we will get memoirs that identify exactly which bad options Mattis preventing Trump from choosing. Maybe. Right now, it is an aritcle of faith that Mattis is restraining Trump. The big test is right in front of us: if Trump decertifies Iran, then we can say that Mattis is not nearly as powerful as folks have thought. If Trump pulls back, I will try to stop my screams about Mattis being overrated.