The ghost of isolation’s past still haunts our military-industrial complex. Like the scowled Scrooge, our overly ribboned Pentagon proconsuls are visited by ghastly apparitions bleating demoniac slogans like “BRING THE TROOPS HOOOOOOME” and “IRAQ NEVER HAAAAD WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION.”
With Donald Trump soon departing D.C. for the sunnier pastures of Palm Beach, the threat of populist aversion to war is abated. For now.
The professional Potomac class is thrilled about this “return to normalcy.” The operative sense of what constitutes “normal” is, of course, the unfettered bombing of back-of-beyond sand traps. Since Election Day, anyone within a twenty-mile radius of the District has heard Moët corks popping nonstop, the bubbly plumes loudest within a one-mile strip of land in southern Arlington County.
The reveling has migrated shamelessly onto the op-ed pages of major outlets, with scribblers taking a verbose victory lap over Trump’s prematurely ending presidency. The most gratuitous is Trump’s first Defense Secretary disavowing the nationalist ethos of his whilom boss. In a group-authored Foreign Affairs polemic, James “Mad Dog” Mattis urges the incoming Biden Administration to “revise national security strategy” and “eliminate ‘America first’ from its contents.”
He and his coauthors go on in the kind of sterile prose that streams like smarm from K Street PR shops: “The best strategy for ensuring safety and prosperity is to buttress American military strength with enhanced civilian tools and a restored network of solid alliances—both necessary to achieving defense in depth.”
“Defense in depth;” “enhanced civilian tools;” “network of solid alliances;” this is bureaucratic buzzspeak, not the coarse, one-syllable vernacular of no-nonsense generals actually concerned with national security. The entire piece was probably ghostwritten by a budding DCI Group copywriter or *shudders* a Liz Cheney underling.
Nonetheless, Mattis’s knifing of Trump’s other brand name leaves a few unanswered questions. Such as: If America-first foreign policy is so odious, why did Mattis labor for two years under its auspices? Is this just sour grapes over being dismissed by the President? Is the four-star general gunning for a book deal? Would Mattis have even added his name to the jeremiad had Trump won?
Most importantly, what canapé and Riesling pairing does the hardboiled General prefer at Georgetown fêtes? Quail eggs and ricotta with an Alsace varietal? “Mad Dog” is a lone pup: he’s had to develop a sophisticated palette. No kibble-on-a-cracker and cheap Barefoot for him.
Mattis’s preference of amuse-bouches is relevant because his motive for going anti-America-first isn’t all starry-eyed patriotism. There’s vindictiveness to it. Or else why admit you worked for a president who, in your own words, undercut America’s defenses? Wouldn’t that be what scientists, university presidents, Ph.D. holders, worldly philosophers, ancient theologians, “Jeopardy!” contests, and all the brightest among and before us call a mistake?
No, that can’t possibly be. When’s the last time anyone within our vast warfare apparatus admitted to making a mistake? General George Washington surrendering Philadelphia in the Battle of Brandywine?
Mattis is trying to get back in the good graces of the Washington smartset who sing chanticles to the new Kyrie: rules-based international order. Otherwise known as American imperium, the so-called “order” is really just globalized mercantilism, with the U.S. military and allies as its enforcer. Our troops don’t shed blood for oil; they suffer shrapnel intake so Amazon can open a Skopje warehouse and the dollar, euro, pound, and yen can devalue pari passu.
There’s also the risible notion that our global interference also acts as a didactic force in teaching everyone from Slovakia to Oman the value of constitutional republicanism. That the hellfire missiles we lob at Yemeni villages come equipped with 5th-grade civics textbooks is a notion that puts our capital brain trust at ease. Mattis and his ilk are really just carbon copies of the clueless Colonel Purdy, threatening to teach Hindu Kish natives “the meaning of democracy” even if they have “to shoot every one of them.”
For all of his flaws, Donald Trump was the first U.S. president since Jimmy Carter to not engage our troops in any new overseas skirmishes. That’s not for nothing when fathers are redeploying to the same warzones with sons who weren’t even a zygote when the invasion began. Trump’s reward for not igniting a fresh conflict? An endless tongue-lashing from the same desk sergeants and chicken hawks who said pacifying Iraq would be a Sunday stroll.
That should leave Trump in well-thought-of company. “Mad Dog” can keep barking about “robust alliances” and “strategic depth” and other polished vacuity. Biden might scratch him behind the ear, but fewer and fewer Americans will pay him any attention.