Don’t cry for Mattis – he was as bad as the other generals that once surrounded Trump

Lucian K. Truscott IV has some harsh words for the outgoing secretary of defense Jim Mattis, touted as the ‘Last Adult in The Room’, just like all the other high-ranking military officers that the media automatically endows with sterling qualities simply by virtue of their office. Truscott says like the other three generals that Donald Trump once had and have now left, Mattis was a toady who went along with pretty much all Trump’s hare-brained ideas, resigning only because his feelings were hurt that he was not consulted about the Syria withdrawal.

The arm-waving and hand-flapping and pearl-clutching in the foreign affairs and national security “communities,” not to mention in the Congress and among prominent Democrats, is something to behold. Significant portions of all those communities have long thought we didn’t have any business being in Syria in the first place. Not to mention fighting our 17th year of the so-called “war” in Afghanistan, from which Trump intends to remove some 7,000 American troops, another decision he apparently reached without consulting the Last Adult in the Room.

More than 2,400 American soldiers dead in Afghanistan so far. More than 30,000 Afghan civilians killed. Sixty percent of Afghan districts under control of the Taliban. Opium production at an “all-time high.” Dozens, sometimes hundreds of Afghan soldiers killed every single week. You thought Vietnam was a misbegotten military misadventure? How about 17 years in Afghanistan with no end in sight? Hell, opium production was said to be at an “all-time high” when I was in the Kunar River Valley in Afghanistan in 2004. That’s 14 years ago, 14 years of record-setting opium crops!

He says that the low US casualty figures in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan reveal what the troops are actually doing there.

We can get some idea what they’re doing by the number of casualties American forces have suffered in both places. An American soldier was killed in Manbij, Syria, by a roadside bomb in March of this year. He was the fourth American killed in Syria since our forces entered the country in 2014. There have been 18 Americans killed in Afghanistan this year. Eleven were killed there last year. About half of those killed in Afghanistan have been so-called “green-on-green” killings, incidents where “friendly” Afghans killed American soldiers, usually on American bases.

You want to know what those casualty numbers tell us? American forces in Syria, Afghanistan, or Iraq aren’t going outside the wire – off American bases – very often. That’s how you stay alive in places like Syria and Afghanistan. You stay away from places where things like IEDs can kill you. And even then, in the comparative safety of American bases, you’re not safe, because there are enemy soldiers posing as “friendly” Afghan soldiers who will kill you.

This is the nature of the conflicts we’re engaged in. You take thousands of American soldiers and send them thousands of miles away from home into combat zones in foreign lands, and you have them do as little as possible so not too many of them get killed.

It pains me to say this, but Trump pulling 2,000 soldiers out of Syria and 7,000 soldiers out of Afghanistan is the right thing to do. It might be getting done by a certifiable loon with an orange muskrat on his head, but it’s the right thing to do and it should have been done a long time ago.

On Twitter, Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept provides a top ten list of the takeaways from Mattis’s exit.

  1. I support withdrawing US troops from all these wars, overt and covert.
  2. Trump is an unstable authoritarian who cannot be trusted.
  3. “Mattis was an adult” is bullshit. He’s a hawkish war criminal.
  4. It’s very telling that the war party in DC is furious.
  5. This is an opportunity for progressive forces to assert an alternative vision for US foreign policy.
  6. Trump is a crooked charlatan. But these withdrawals would represent a dent in the armor of the bipartisan war machine.
  7. This chaos presents opportunity.
  8. There is a real possibility Trump will withdraw forces from Afghanistan and use Erik Prince’s forces. This must be opposed ferociously.
  9. One consequence of major drawdowns could be a dramatic uptick in covert actions and air strikes. Obama embraced that model.
  10. For those who somehow think this is Trump opposing the war machine, I point you to his massive escalation of drone strikes, his easing of rules for killing civilians, his use of ground troops in Yemen and Somalia and his use of criminal weaponry like the MOAB in Afghanistan.

As always, it must be remembered that just because Trump is generally awful does not mean that every single decision he makes must be wrong and opposed. A stopped clock etc., etc.


  1. Art says

    It isn’t the withdrawals that bothers thoughtful people. It is how and the why that is disturbing.

    How: An abrupt, unplanned and poorly executed withdrawal is likely to be bloodier and more destructive than a well timed and executed retreat.

    Why: Because The idiot Trump is having a bad day and needs to feel powerful.

    What should have happened:
    I’ve long thought the British model of armored car and aircraft attacks had some merit. As long as the locals didn’t interfere with British interests everything was fine. But if the railroad tracks or trade shipments were messed with a force would be dispatched to shoot up the place. Everyone payed a price. Then the force would withdrawal and everything would return to normal. The end result was that in the long run there was a diminishing need for British interference. Local leaders would, at their own expense and largely without prompting, established guard posts to protect British interests. The need to protect British interests was adapted to and taken as something of a natural phenomenon. Similar to why you don’t build a house in a presently dry creek bed.

    This was a modernization of Roman tactics. If the locals play nice everyone gets along. If not rough men show up on your doorstep and break your toys. Then, after just a short time, they go away. Until next time.

    In response the 9/11 the US should have gone in, hurt the Taliban, tried to capture OBL, and then left.

    Same in Iraq.

    As it is now the US takes casualties, inflicts many more, wears out its welcome, and shows that we can’t be trusted to support our allies. In the end, after many years, and at great expense in lives and treasure, the end result will be these countries worse off than if we adopted the British model. The main gain has been is that the British model is one of reprisal where we play the part of the bad guys. Whereas our plan, of rebuilding these nations as democracies, and failing, gives us the warm feeling of being the ‘good guys’. In the end our desire to be the good guys means more Americans, and non-Americans suffer and die. Our presence may also be stunting the natural shift of these nations into the modern world. Nothing justifies radical Muslim faith, with all of its misogyny and backwardness, quite so well as having infidels at hand to blame for everything.

  2. jrkrideau says

    In response the 9/11 the US should have gone in, hurt the Taliban, tried to capture OBL, and then left.

    Well no. The USA should have asked the Afghani government to surrender Osama Bin Laden and his associates. As they were willing to do as long as the initial extradition was to an Islamic country such as the UAE.

    The Taliban may be/was a nasty bunch but they were/are not stupid.

  3. Art says

    I remember there being some offer to deliver OBL to US hands but, as I remember it, the mechanics of the collection and delivery were thwarted by internal divisions and the layered nature of the Taliban/Al-Qaeda (there was a lot of overlap) organization/s. This was in part a result of history, the Taliban/Mujaheddin had roundly defeated Russian forces and taking on the US wasn’t considered much harder. Secondly, the Taliban/Al-Qaeda considered themselves favored by God. The feeling of Victory and blessing were still very much present in their rhetoric when handing over OBL became an issue.

    It isn’t a bad idea but I wonder if this is the other side of reprisal raids being too broad with handing an individual over being too narrow and specific. It isn’t as if OBL did it all by himself, and we lost about 4000 people. Hard to say what number is appropriate but handing over the top dozen, or two , in the organization/s seems more proportional. Either way, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen.

    That isn’t to say that the poorly planned and executed incursion into Afghanistan was any great improvement. The attempt to make it look more like a native Afghan operation and, in the final weeks, to shift resources in preparation for the invasion of Iraq meant that OBL and the other Al-Qeada leaders present were allowed to flee to Pakistan. A few hundred motivated troops in the right location could have prevented that retreat. But for a nail …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *