A Rebuttal to a Rebuttal: “Mattis Trashes ‘America First’ but That Dog Won’t Hunt”

My fellow Free the People contributor Matt Genovese can’t seem to take a joke. Or a series of them. Or even, if I may indulge, a few stylistic jabs for entertainment’s sake.

In response to my piece taking former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to task for slagging “America First” foreign policy, Mr. Genovese has a few minor quibbles about my rhetoric, namely that I misapplied a widely used nickname for the General and that I somehow missed his already remaindered memoir. For the latter slip up, I’ll be sure to rummage for “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead” in the Capitol Hill Books bargain bin. (I won’t really: my preferred sleep aid comes in the form of my rumbustious two-year-old who leaves me exhausted at the end of every day.)

As for the offending canid nickname I employed, I’ll let the good General come track me down and gash my throat in the dark of night if he sees fit. Mattis is a big boy; he doesn’t need Mr. Genovese as his personal appellation police.

Now, onto the substance of Mr. Genovese’s rebut. His contention is that “America First” as an ideal foreign policy is not ideal whatsoever. It’s downright dangerous. He writes: “[T]hey,” meaning General “Chaos” (Did I get that right?) Mattis and his chaositers, “believe the only way to keep America first in the world is to be a part of the global diplomatic conversation and take our rightful leadership role in the marketplace of ideas on democracy and security for the rest of the globe.”

What this heavy-dressinged word salad means, my gustatory cortex thinks, is America shouldn’t pull up the drawbridge and refuse to participate in Davos junkets and U.N. confabs and the like. Genovese adds, “I really don’t see anything wrong with that approach.”

More so, Genovese posits that what Mattis and co. really meant is that “America First” meant “America Alone” and the latter is “just plain wrong.” If my initial piece was glutted with cut-rate gibes, this notion should make it stand as a Wagenrian tragedy in contrast.

America did not become more alone under Trump, turning into its lorn self. The disappointing truth is that not much changed on the global front from 2016 through 2020. Yes, Trump extricated us from some superficial international agreements, most of which had no enforcement mechanism. If Mr. Genovese is upset that Trump broke with the plain mercantilism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I’ll have to check his Bastiat fan club card to see if it’s expired.

It’s true that Trump imposed relatively severe travel restrictions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But even some liberals have admitted the special circumstances surrounding an airborne respiratory pathogen necessitated it. A few Democrats have even suggested Trump didn’t lock and bolt the doors fast enough—including Joe Biden.

But, on the military front, the so-called “America Alone” approach that had General Mattis and the Pentagon brass shaking in their bull polished corfam Oxfords never came close to fruition. Our footprint still makes a large impression on the Middle East. President Trump didn’t significantly expand it, nor did he lesson it. He actually boosted troop levels in Afghanistan: a fact that should bury the “America Alone” narrative but won’t because Beltway periodicals traffic in empire apologia.

Mr. Genovese and I are in agreement that Trump not inserting troops into any new wars of choice is “all well and good.” He then follows up by pointing out Trump “failed to deliver on his promise to end our endless wars.” (Point of linguistic consistency: isn’t it technically not possible to end “endless” wars, by definition?) But all this proves is that “America Alone” is a slanderous lie used to impugn the outgoing President. Trump could not abandon the globe if he never actually abandoned it. He did not, to paraphrase Mr. Genovese, take his ball and go home. Trump remained on the court, heckling and hemming and hawing, never following through on his own campaign promise to bring our troops home.

So what’s the disagreement here? That I engaged in a bit of impolite bulverism regarding Mattis’s critique of “America First”? Perhaps. But here’s the thing: slipslop about “preserving alliances” and “global stability” and “maintaining open trade routes” and “defending the post-war rules-based international order” all amounts to an excuse. It’s an excuse to not wind down the American empire because there will always be a cost to stepping back and ceding control. That cost—no matter its size or consequence—will be brandished by men like General Mattis whose livelihood is wrapped up in perpetuating forever war.

No, we won’t ever have the military “100% quartered on our soil.” And yes, “we shouldn’t want to disengage from diplomacy.” But no serious observer has ever argued otherwise: not this author, not Donald Trump, not Pat Buchanan, not Ron Paul, not Robert Taft. Maligning “America First” as a complete and total withdrawal is a strawman overpaid laptop-hunchers like Bill Kristol and Max Boot build up and burn down. Not great company for a libertarian.

The very term “America First” makes the Washington class bristle because it’s suggestive of a time when America was an actual republic of states. It was always a controversial pick for Trump’s campaign brand. Washington lives and breathes off being the world’s top predator. Mr. Genovese might want to make that the target of his ire, rather than my chronological error on Mattis’s departure from the Trump Administration. Muddling a timeline is, after all, thin soup compared to our revitalized marital leviathan under incoming President Biden.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Taylor Lewis

Taylor Lewis writes from Virginia.

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  • Navigating the forest of straw men built in this rebuttal to offer a response just isn’t really worth the effort. But I did think it was pretty ironic since Lewis accuses others of doing the same thing here.

    But I will just respond to one item—I did laugh out loud at this:

    “What this heavy-dressinged word salad means, my gustatory cortex thinks, is America shouldn’t pull up the drawbridge and refuse to participate in Davos junkets and U.N. confabs and the like“

    Seems that self awareness isn’t Lewis’s strong suit. Using a word salad to accuse another of word salad is just too rich.

    I am glad that this seems like it was received in the manner it was intended as good natured sparring. I look forward to doing it again on a future topic.

    • Thanks for the reply, Matt!

      Just a quick clarification: forests are made up of trees, not built of straw men.

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