The Corner

White House

Mattis’s Extraordinary Letter

(Reuters/Eric Thayer)

Resignations in principle have become rare events in American government. The last one took place in 1980, when Secretary of State Cyrus Vance left the Carter Administration after getting iced out of the decision to attempt a rescue of the hostages in Iran. And even Vance didn’t leave while making as sharp a critique of the administration as the one Mattis has leveled.

Mattis’s disagreement with the president over Syria may have precipitated his resignation, but Mattis says that the difference runs much deeper. Mattis writes that he believes in respecting allies, being clear-eyed about enemies and competitors, and fostering an international order that is conducive to American security, prosperity, and values. He then — in his very next sentence — suggests that he is at odds with Trump on each of these questions and more.

We are therefore to infer that in Mattis’s view, Trump does not respect our allies, is not clear-eyed about our enemies and competitors, and is undermining our security, prosperity, and values. It is the kind of critique one could easily imagine a presidential candidate running against Trump making in 2020. I can’t really think of an American historical case that’s at all analogous. The closest one that comes to mind was the resignation of a Secretary of State 158 years ago, also in December.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular


In Defense of the Electoral College

Senator Elizabeth Warren has joined a growing chorus within the Democratic party in calling for the abolition of the Electoral College. Speaking at a forum in Mississippi on Monday night, Warren said that she hoped to ensure that “every vote matters” and proposed that “the way we can make that happen is ... Read More

Stick a Fork in O’Rourke

If, as I wrote last week here, Joe Biden may save the Democratic party from a horrible debacle at the polls next year, Beto O’Rourke may be doing the whole process a good turn now. Biden, despite his efforts to masquerade as the vanguard of what is now called progressivism, is politically sane and, if ... Read More
National Security & Defense

In Defense of the Iraq War

Today is the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and Twitter is alive with condemnations of the conflict -- countered by precious few defenses. Yet I believed the Iraq War was just and proper in 2003, and I still believe that today. When Donald Trump condemned the war during the 2015 primary campaign and ... Read More

Beto-mania and Our Cult of Personality Politics

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke’s biggest fans and supporters insist he is a forward-thinking, future-oriented visionary, but no contender for the Democratic nomination feels more familiar than the former three-term congressman from El Paso. That’s because he has the highest combined score in both déjà vu ... Read More