President Donald Trump’s first former Defense Secretary, James Mattis, prompted a swift backlash from conservatives after he penned an article that called for eliminating “America First” from the nation’s national security strategy — a direct attack on his former boss’s world view.
In January, when President Joe Biden and his national security team begin to reevaluate U.S. foreign policy, we hope they will quickly revise the national security strategy to eliminate ‘America first’ from its contents, restoring in its place the commitment to cooperative security that has served the United States so well for decades.
Mattis also argued for a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. He wrote: “It is in the United States’ interests to build the capacity of such governments to deal with the threats that concern Americans.”
“That work isn’t quick or linear, but it is an investment in both greater security and stronger relationships and preferable to the United States’ indefinitely having to take care of threats on its own,” he added.
He also called for “substantial investment to help build capable and willing allies” and “to sustain an industrial base that can provide for the defense needs of the United States and help meet those of its most essential allies.”
“In time, such investment will more than pay off, since it enables allies to share more of the burden,” he argued.
Trump responded in a tweet Tuesday morning: “That says it all about Mattis. Obama fired him. I should have fired him sooner. Did best work after he was gone. World’s most overrated general!”
Bryan Dean Wright, a former CIA operations officer and conservative Democrat, criticized Mattis’s piece as well:
America First does not mean America Alone. It means allies must carry their weight — no more NATO members shirking their military commitments, for example. Otherwise, we walk away. Jim Mattis knows this. He’s lying to denigrate Trump & the tough America First movement.
Some called Mattis’s attack on “America First” an attack on those who agree with the world view.
Actor and conservative Isaiah Washington tweeted, “Did James Mattis just indirectly declare war on the American People? Wow. I Stand With @GenFlynn #MAGA.”
“For him to say that, being a military veteran, for him to say that — that hurts, man,” said conservative radio show host and veteran Wayne Dupree on his show on Tuesday, choking up. “That’s a heart hurt type of thing.”
He continued: “President Trump came down the escalator to make America First because a whole lot of Republicans and Democrats have been hurt in this country, so when you hear Mattis say he wants to remove it from the lexicon…ladies and gentlemen, this is against y’all.”
Dupree later tweeted, “Just for the record General Mattis, #AmericaFirst doesn’t mean America alone, you old a** idiot. These so-called leaders have looked out for other countries interests so long, these pansies don’t even understand the term #AmericaFirst.”
Scott Adams, cartoonist and author, tweeted: “Is it too late to fire him a second time?”
Historian Edward Luttwak, a historian and scholar, said that Mattis lacked situational awareness at a strategic level.
“Ret. 4-star & SecDef Mattis is quoted by CNN etc as the ultimate strategic authority. Not quite: the 2003 drive up to Baghdad was operational-level generalship at its best, but situational awareness is the key at the strategic level & it was absent in M’s Afghanistan decisions,” he tweeted.
Author Diana West tweeted that Mattis’s loyalty is to the “globalist ‘world order,’ which is America Last.”
President of Freedom Alliance Tom Kilgannon called Mattis’s piece “a lot of globalist claptrap.”
He tweeted: “This is a lot of globalist claptrap. They talk in circles insisting other nations have the right to make their own decisions, but the US doesn’t. They argue the US has to take care of allies who aren’t working to take care of themselves.”
There were hundreds of others on Twitter who criticized Mattis.
Before serving in the Trump administration as a civilian, Mattis had served as a four-star Marine general as U.S. Central Command commander under former President Barack Obama. He was reportedly forced out for being too hawkish on Iran. He would then go on to become somewhat of a military icon for his meme-worthy quips and sayings. Trump would appoint him in 2017 as his first defense secretary.
In perhaps an early sign of his different world view from Trump, Mattis first tried to appoint former Obama administration officials Michele Flournoy as his defense secretary and Anne Patterson as his top policy chief. Flournoy and Patterson both turned down the offers. He would later settle on Patrick Shanahan as deputy defense secretary and John Rood, a critic of Trump, as his top policy chief. Under Mattis, a number of Never Trumpers took senior positions throughout the Pentagon.
After serving for nearly two years, Mattis resigned when Trump ordered a reduction of thousands of U.S. forces from Syria after the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) caliphate in 2018. However, by then Trump had already soured on Mattis over other policy disagreements, such as how much South Korea should contribute for a continued U.S. troop presence on the Korean peninsula. Mattis did, however, execute the president’s top military priority of the successful decimation of the ISIS.
As a private citizen, Mattis profited from his military experience.
In 2013, five months after retiring from the Marine Corps, Mattis joined the board of General Dynamics, receiving approximately $1 million in compensation, according to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). At the time, Mattis’s brother was an employee of a subsidiary of General Dynamics, POGO said.
Mattis also joined the board of Theranos, a blood-testing company that later shut down after investigations into the company found that it had exaggerated the efficacy of its blood testing devices. He also served as a military adviser to the United Arab Emirates, according to CNN.
He is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution.