Wednesday, February 1, 2017

SecDef Mattis: Another Thin Reed

Apparently, the allies see SecDef Mattis as the canary in the coal mine. "If Mr. Mattis were to leave the job or lose influence within the administration, it would be seen as a troubling omen, said one foreign official."  I have only one reaction to that:

That the canary is already mostly dead. Why?  Because Mattis was left out of the Muslim Ban executive order.  Why is this problematic?  The ban had significant military equities (a term I learned in 2001-02 referring to when the US military had some stakes in a policy):
  1. The ban means that Iraqi pilots were supposed to come to the US to train to fly the planes the US sold them can't.
  2. Some of the folks whose travel to the US was blocked were interpreters who had served in harm's way to help American forces.  So, who is going to serve as interpreters now that the promise of a life in the US (staying in one's country is often no longer possible after working closely with foreign forces) is gone?
  3. Predictably, Iraq may ban Americans, including the contractors who provide vital support for the war effort.
  4. Previous American generals have noted that Islamophobia in the US is a recruiting tool for Islamist terrorsts.  ISIS is already making much of this ban.  Indeed, Islamophobia in the US may endanger American troops.  Remember green on blue attacks where the people the US trains shoot at the trainers?
  5. Many members of the US armed forces either themselves are green card holders or their families are (or both). So, this executive order directly impacts a significant number of the troops. (Thanks to Heather Hurlburt for reminding of this).
 I could go on.  The key here is that Mattis was presented with a fait accompli.  So, why should any foreign leader buy his reassurances that he will make sure that Trump respects American alliances?  Mattis is already tainted, and it has been less than a week he has served as SecDef.  As violence escalates in Ukraine, Mattis will have to shrug his shoulders since it is highly unlikely that the US will do anything to help Ukraine.  While Ukraine is not Estonia and the US doesn't owe it the same level of support, consider it another wheeze from the dying canary.

I am not sure what the allies should do, but counting on Mattis is a thin reed upon which to rest their hopes.  As I discussed on twitter with Colin Kahl, an academic and former National Security Adviser to the Vice President, there will be a lot of self-help going on, and with that, spirals of increasing insecurity.

Sorry to be a Debbie downer, again....

No comments: