Some time ago, I read a piece by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo that anyone who comes into the vicinity of Donald Trump ends up having their reputation trashed because they get forced to do things that they would not otherwise do simply to stay on in their jobs. That article was in the context of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who according to Marshall, had a good reputation before his role in the firing of James Comey was revealed.
It is tempting to think the same of John Kelly, Trump’s White House chief of staff whose extraordinary attack on congresswoman Frederica Wilson was riddled with outright falsehoods. The image that had been painted of him before that attack was that of a sober military officer who would try to act as a check on Trump’s wild rants and lies.
But Jon Schwarz says that Kelly’s performance was not an aberration and that he was always a hard-right bully and what the Wilson episode did was simply reveal his true nature.
WHITE HOUSE CHIEF of Staff John Kelly’s gruesome defense Thursday of President Donald Trump’s call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson was shocking.
But it should not have been a surprise. Any examination of Kelly’s past public remarks makes clear he is not a sober professional, calculating that he must degrade himself in public so he can remain in place to rein in Trump’s worst instincts behind the scenes. Rather, Kelly honestly shares those instincts: He’s proudly ignorant, he’s a liar, and he’s a shameless bully and demagogue.
Schwarz goes back into Kelly’s record and gathers the evidence for the awful things Kelly believes in and lists them under five headings:
1. No one outside of the military can legitimately question any of America’s wars.
2. No one who is in the military ever questions any of America’s wars.
3. America and its wars are and have always been good.
4. America is under terrifying threat from incomprehensible lunatics.
5. Our country is hamstrung by its sniveling “chattering class.”
Kelly is right, of course, that the U.S. has an out-of-touch, disgustingly frivolous chattering class. But they are almost uniformly supportive of each new war America launches. Whenever things fall apart again and they start meekly asking questions, they’re easily whipped back into line by the kind of bullying in which both Kelly and Trump specialize.
So even before Kelly’s ugly performance Thursday, there was no reason to hope he would put any kind of brake on Trump. Kelly may be personally far more palatable; he’s certainly no mewling coward like Trump and has unquestionably put his life where his mouth is. That goes for his children as well — his other son is also a Marine — even as Trump’s kids are the living embodiment of every criticism Kelly makes about U.S. society.
But there’s a reason these two men found each other. They see the world in fundamentally the same way, and Kelly is going to help Trump do what he wants to it.
In other words, he and Trump are a well-matched pair, and have always been a well-matched pair.
So why did Kelly suddenly thrust himself into the spotlight on this occasion and indulge in outright lies? I think it is because both he and Trump fear that the deaths of the soldiers in Niger was due to a botched operation and could become a major issue, and that Wilson’s comments are keeping alive what they would prefer to see buried. Wilson herself is no shrinking violet and has charged that Niger is Trump’s equivalent of Benghazi.
There are increasing calls for a congressional investigation because, as David Andelman writes, there are so many unanswered questions.
Just how was it left to Nigerian troops, French helicopters and some contract aircraft to find and fetch the bodies of our heroic service members killed in Niger?
Why did they apparently have so little air or intelligence muscle to protect them in the first place? We could get a final answer after the completion of a Benghazi-style after-action probe by the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM.
But what already seems likely is that at least some of the blame lies with those who set in motion a bewildering series of actions.
It is the last statement that likely concerns Trump and Kelly because the buck stops with them.
Andelman says that well-trained forces from Chad were leading the fight against Boko Haram and ISIS in the region, providing cover for troops from the US, Mali and Niger. But then Trump suddenly announced that Chad was on the list of countries included in his latest travel ban for reasons that still do not make much sense. As a consequence, Chad started pulling out all its troops from Niger, leaving the remaining troops more exposed.