The Corner

World

The Departure of Mattis and Engagements in the Middle East

The near-destruction of ISIS in a matter of months (losing 99 percent of its landed caliphate), the restoration of sound defense budgeting, a reestablished sense of deterrence, and stable recalibration with allies were the signature achievements of James Mattis. And it seems a mistake not to have him finish a four-year stint at Defense.

No doubt continued U.S. deployments in both Afghanistan and Syria loomed large in Trump’s sudden decision to leave the latter even if it would cause Mattis’s departure, as well as the sense that as 2020 looms he wants MAGA orthodoxy throughout the cabinet.

The abrupt pulling of U.S. troops out of Syria is likely a mistake — given that for the size (about 2,000 troops on the ground) and cost of the deployment (few casualties), we were keeping ISIS moribund, somewhat checking Iran as well as Russia, and protecting the Kurds and what was left of the democratic Syria resistance. True, Syria was a mess, unlike a relatively stable Iraq in late 2011 (see the comments of Vice President Biden and President Obama), when the U.S. likewise abruptly left and opened the door for ISIS.  Yet Syria’s future now is either going to be much more of a mess or soon a calmer colony of Russia and Iran.

No doubt the U.S. will likewise be reexamining the soon to be 18-year-long slog in Afghanistan.

The problem with all these deployments as they transitioned from emergency interventions to near-permanent stationing was that grand strategists never clearly articulated to the public how such investments kept the U.S. far safer and how long such basing would be necessary, especially in terms of costs to benefits. Both arguments in theory could be made (cf. South Korea), but the public at least never was assured by a series of Afghan deadlines, surges, redirects, recalibrations, withdrawals, and radical changes in command, tactics, and strategies, or by a Syrian tragedy of false red lines, lies about the elimination of poison gas, invitations to the Russians to adjudicate U.N.-enforced WMD compliance and with it entrance back into the Middle East after a 40-year hiatus, ISIS as “jayvees,” the role of NATO “ally” Turkey, and prior restrictive lawfare tactics, etc. Ditto the Clinton “We came, we saw, he [Khadafi] died” misadventure in Libya, ending in Benghazi.

The irony is that under Mattis, we were finally getting to a smaller but deadlier footprint abroad and, at least in Syria, fulfilling Trump’s “Bomb the sh** out of ISIS” promise in the sense of more rubble/less trouble realism. Trump’s base is neither pro-isolationist nor pro–nation-building interventionism, which leaves something in the middle like “Don’t tread on me” Jacksonian realism that his generals seemed to be enacting.

With the Mattis departure ends the Kelly/Mattis/McMaster troika of generals, who in retrospect served the administration — and the country — honorably and effectively in difficult times.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

Most Popular

Elections

The Democrats’ Disastrous CNN LGBT Town Hall

A few days after Donald Trump committed the worst foreign-policy blunder of his presidency by betraying America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, former vice president Joe Biden, the elder statesman and co-frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary, was on a national stage talking to CNN’s primetime ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith Resigns

Fox News Channel's chief anchor, Shepard Smith, announced on air Friday that he would be resigning from his post after 23 years with the network. “This is my last newscast here,” said Smith. “Recently, I asked the company to allow me to leave Fox News. After requesting that I stay, they obliged.” He ... Read More
White House

What Is Impeachment For?

W hat is impeachment for? Seems like a simple question. Constitutionally speaking, it also appears to have a simple answer: to cite and remove from power a president guilty of wrongdoing. Aye, there’s the rub. What sort of wrongdoing warrants removal from power? I’d wager that the flames of ... Read More
Elections

Beto Proposes to Oppress Church with State

Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign is within the margin of error of non-existence, but in his failure he has found a purpose: expressing the Democratic id. His latest bid for left-wing love came at a CNN forum on gay rights, where he said that churches that oppose same-sex marriage should have to pay ... Read More
NR Webathon

Don’t Let Michael Mann Succeed

I  enjoyed the running joke of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in the great Dickens novel Bleak House, back when I first read it. Little did I know that one day I and the magazine that I love would effectively be caught up in a version of that interminable case, courtesy of a litigious climate scientist with zero regard ... Read More