Secretary of Defense Mattis Gets Out Maneuvered

From The Daily Beast:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last month objected to using military force to protect border agents on the southwest border, a knowledgeable current U.S. official and a former Defense Department official told The Daily Beast.

But Mattis didn’t object on principle. When the Department of Homeland Security requested the so-called force protection mission from the Pentagon, Mattis declined because he thought he lacked the authority to do so, the current official said.

Mattis’ objection, as of late October, was the genesis of a highly controversial White House memorandum issued late Tuesday explicitly authorizing the potential use of lethal force against the unarmed civilians of the migrant caravan.

DHS wouldn’t take no for an answer, The Daily Beast has learned. Homeland Security went above Mattis’ head in order to get Donald Trump’s chief of staff to secure for them the potentially lethal military force for which immigration hardliners in the administration had clamored.

In internal discussions with DHS, Mattis pointed to an April 4 memorandum from Trump on hardening the southern border. That memo directed cooperation between Mattis, Nielsen, and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions on combating “illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, and extensive illegal immigration.” (Border crossings have declined over the past decade, and are at levels historically far from “extensive.”) But the memo did not provide Mattis with explicit authorities to use military force, let alone lethal force, in aiding CBP should agents come in danger.

DHS was unwilling to leave the matter at that. The former Defense official said that Homeland Security circumvented Mattis and the Pentagon and instead went directly to the White House in an effort to secure explicit authority for this move from Trump and the West Wing.

And it appears to have worked. Kelly’s memo directly included authorization for lethal military backup. DHS and National Security Council officials did not reply to The Daily Beast’s inquiries by deadline.

More at the link.

Secretary Mattis seems to have outlasted Mira Ricardel who was running a campaign from her office as the Deputy National Security Advisor to wrong-foot Mattis with the President. Ricardel’s motivation was revenge because Mattis refused to both hire her for an undersecretary of Defense position and any of the people she pushed forward from her perch on the DOD transition team for any positions at all. However, both White House Chief of Staff Kelly and Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen are both trying to save their own jobs, so, because Kelly works in the White House and has access to the President whenever he needs or wants it, he was able to outmaneuver Mattis on this issue. What remains to be seen is what, if anything Mattis does about it.

We also have some clarification from earlier regarding the Cabinet Order that Kelly signed:

Update at 9:30 PM EDT

We now know what Secretary Mattis is doing about it! Task & Purpose has an important update to this story (emphasis mine):

THE PENTAGON — Any U.S. troops who assist civil authorities who come under attack by migrants will not be armed, Defense Secretary James Mattis clarified on Wednesday.

“There has been no call for any lethal force from DHS [Department of Homeland Security],” Mattis told reporters at a Pentagon news conference. “There is no armed element going in. I will determine it, based on what DHS asks for and a mission analysis.”

Mattis spoke the day after retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, signed a “cabinet order” giving active-duty U.S. troops on the southwest border new authorities to assist U.S. Border and Customs Protection personnel.

If border police came under attack, unarmed military police could respond, but they would be equipped with shields and batons, not firearms, Mattis said.

A reporter noted that Kelly’s cabinet order gives troops the authority to use lethal force, if necessary.

“I have the authority,” Mattis replied, noting that pictures of troops on the border show that they do not have weapons. “Relax. Don’t worry about it.”

We are off the looking glass and through the map!

Open thread.



A Quick Note on the Most Recent Kerfuffle Between the President and Admiral McRaven

The President has decided to once again get into a public kerfuffle concerning Admiral (ret) William McRaven. This has, of course, led to a lot of retired senior officers, as well as former senior civilian appointees, to come to Admiral McRaven’s defense and to call out the President regarding his remarks. I think it is important that we step back a bit and try to understand what we are actually observing with this ongoing series of rebukes of the President by retired senior officers and civilian appointees. This is not some bizarre new era of partisanship or political polarization. Rather, what is happening, why these retired senior officials – uniformed and civilian – keep speaking up has to specifically do with this President, how he communicates, what he communicates, his behavior, and the official actions he’s taking.

Almost all of these officials either spent their careers with no partisan affiliation because they were serving in the US military or were senior civilian officials appointed by Republican presidents because they were considered to be part of the Republican/conservative national security and foreign policy establishment. We’ve even reached the point when a group of prominent conservative lawyers, many of whom have held senior appointments in previous Republican administration, have decided to make a very public break with this administration and its Federalist Society allies, which is separate from the pushback regarding Admiral McRaven. While what we’re seeing is unprecedented in modern American political history, it is not surprising. Each of these retired senior officials that are speaking up are doing so because in their professional estimation the President is something completely outside of the norms of American politics. And, as a result, they are forced to themselves do something outside of the norms by publicly speaking out. That failing to do so would mean they were failing in their professional responsibilities even in retirement.

Earlier today COL (ret) Jack Jacobs, who is both a Medal of Honor awardee and a self described political conservative, was interviewed by Nicole Wallace about the President’s most recent dustup about Admiral McRaven. The clip is below and it is well worth the four or five minutes of your time.

I can honestly state that I was not expecting a reference to Rabbi Hillel in his response to Wallace’s question!

Open thread!



The President Doesn’t Want US Military Personnel Deployed in Combat Zones; Fine, Order Them Home!

The New York Times dives into the President’s unwillingness to make a visit to US military personnel deployed in combat zones. Here’s the real important part of the article:

One reason he has not visited troops in war zones, according to his aides, is that he does not really want American troops there in the first place. To visit, they said, would validate missions he does not truly believe in.

There is a very simple solution if the President doesn’t want US military personnel deployed to these war zones or conducting these operations because he doesn’t believe that the US military should be conducting them: ORDER THEM HOME!!!!!

Every single one of these deployments, from Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and Syria to Operation Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan to every aid, advise, and assist mission conducted by both conventional and Special Operations forces, to every lethal/kinetic Special Operations mission covered under JSOC’s remit are all conducted solely under the authority of the President. Either authority provided to the President by the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force or the authority the President has to order short term, renewable contingency operations as long as the President both notifies Congress about them and Congress is willing to fund them.

If the current President of the United States believes that these campaigns, operations, and missions are wrong, should either never have been initially authorized or not repeatedly reauthorized, and doesn’t believe in the missions, the US military’s ability to complete the mission, or some combination of these reasons, then he needs to issue clear orders ending these assignments and return the US military personnel deployed to conduct them home. There is no declaration of war that creates a constitutionally rooted, statutory requirement that US personnel be deployed to defend the US and its interests that complicates this. Right now there are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Service civilians deployed in harm’s way. Leaving them to face danger, when the President doesn’t believe they need to be there is a gross dereliction of his duty. If the President doesn’t believe in the missions these Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and DOD, Department of the Army, Navy, and/or Air Force civilians are tasked with carrying out under his authority as Commander in Chief, then he needs to end them. Immediately. If he can’t bring himself to do so because he’s too much of a coward, then he has a responsibility to visit US military personnel deployed abroad, to attend to memorial services at Arlington and other national cemeteries and monuments, both within and without the US. If he can’t bring himself to do either of these – ending missions he doesn’t believe in or actually attending to his duties and obligations to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Service civilians deployed in harm’s way under his authority, then he needs to resign.

We are off the looking glass and through the map!

Open thread.



On the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month of 1918 World War I Did Not Come to an End

(Satwinder Sehmi’s Calligraphy: In Flander’s Field)

As Veteran’s Day 2018 comes to a close, and with it the commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, it is important to remember that World War I did not actually end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. While it is true that the armistice was signed and peace talks would soon begin, World War I did not stop on November 11, 2018. Rather, and more accurately, it transformed into a series of low intensity conflicts that would simmer until reigniting into World War II. At the heart of those conflicts was a war of ideas. One of these ideas was national identity. Specifically, how ethno-national minorities that were left behind the lines, so to speak, when the armistice was signed would relate to the governments they now lived under, their ethno-national majority neighbors, and how those governments and those neighbors would relate to them. Out of these tense, taut, and often violent relationships between ethno-national majorities and minorities in post World War I Europe would grow other even more dangerous ideas such as fascism, in its corporatist, nationalist-syndicalist, and racist forms. Even, to a certain extent, Leninism, was unable to escape the nationalist tensions that resulted from the way World War I never really ended.

The great power competition that had led to World War I was changed by these clash of ideas – nationalism, fascism, communism – and, as a result, World War II and the Cold War were as much wars of ideas and ideology as they were wars of conquest and for territory. These ideas were about how to better organize state and society. And they placed the ideas of liberty and liberal democracy in all of its various types in direct conflict with the totalitarian ideas of fascism on the extreme right and communism on the extreme left. And just as different forms of liberal democracy would develop, so to would different variations of fascism and communism. These clash of ideas, of how states, societies, and even the global system should best be structured, would lead to both World War II, a long Cold War, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and a number of conflicts fought by the proxies of the two post World War II superpowers. to a certain extent they are also an undercurrent in the US’s seeming forever war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As 2018 moves towards 2019, the world is once again faced with a war of ideas. The ideas of well ordered liberty and its expression in the different types of liberal democracy are once again facing off against totalitarian ideas from both state and non-state actors. Vladimir Putin challenges the US and its EU and NATO allies and partners with his promotion of managed democracy as a façade for the kleptocratic organized crime state he has created in Russia. Xi Xinping, recently declared as President for Life, promotes his fusion of Maoism, state controlled capitalism, and Chinese nationalism through his Belt and Road Initiative. ISIS continues to promote an extreme version of tawheed, the Islamic theological understanding of the unity of the Deity, which includes violently imposing its doctrine on believers and unbelievers alike. 

The War to End all Wars did not do so because it could not do so. Nor did World War II. Now has any other war. So while we recognize and commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I, we need to be realistic about what we face both within and without the United States. We need to remain vigilant in order to ensure that well ordered liberty prevails in this 21st century war of ideas.

Open thread.



Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall: Presidential Indifference Edition

(Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Monument)

The President was supposed to go to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Monument today.

I’m sure all other forms of acceptable and securable transportation were also unavailable today in France because of the inclement weather. The Ainse-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial is only 50 miles from Paris in Belleau, France. Apparently The Beast doesn’t do well when its wet…

The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Monument commemorates:

With headstones lying in a sweeping curve, the 42.5-acre Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial in France, sits at the foot of Belleau Wood. The cemetery contains the graves of 2,289 war dead, most of whom fought in the vicinity and in the Marne Valley in the summer of 1918. The memorial chapel sits on a hillside, decorated with sculptured and stained-glass details of wartime personnel, equipment and insignia. Inscribed on its interior wall are 1,060 names of the missing. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. In 1940 during World War II the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery chapel was damaged due to heavy fighting in the vicinity. All damage was repaired except for one shell hole in the chapel, left as a reminder of what took place.

Belleau Wood adjoins the cemetery and contains many vestiges of World War I. A monument at the flagpole commemorates the valor of the U.S. Marines who captured much of this ground in 1918.

Dedicated: 1937 Location: France Burials:2,289 Missing in Action: 1,060 Acres: 42.50

For those who aren’t into the history of World War I, The Battle of Belleau Wood was:

Set amidst small villages and farmland 50-odd miles north-east of Paris, Belleau Wood is as quiet now as it doubtless was before the fighting erupted there in June 1918. And that fighting was brutal.

On 30 May two other American divisions, the 2nd & 3rd*, were ordered into the area, arriving from different directions east and west. A machine gun battalion of the latter secured the south bank of the Marne at the key bridgehead of Château-Thierry as other of their number began to arrive on the scene.

But the main action of the weeks ahead would lie north-west of the town, involving men of the 2nd Division; in particular, two of their regiments, a brigade of Marines led by Pershing’s old chief of staff James Harbord. It would be their efforts to secure a woodland there that would capture headlines, helped in part by the purple prose of journalist Floyd Gibbons.

Belleau Wood was little more than a mile long and half a mile wide, yet it would cost many lives to capture and would be reported across the world.

“It was perhaps a small battle in terms of World War I,” says Professor Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi. “But it was outsized in historic importance. It was the battle that meant that the US had arrived.”

Yet as operations go, as brave and tenacious as the soldiers were, it was poorly planned and badly commanded, certainly in its opening phases.

After adjacent areas were captured, the decision was taken to advance on the wood on the afternoon of 6 June. But little reconnaissance had been carried out as to what to expect when they got there and only scant artillery fire was laid down beforehand.

Inside, German machine gunners had taken up positions in defensive holes, behind rocky outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth. Worse, the Marines now advanced towards them in rank formation over the exposed ground outside. They were slaughtered. By nightfall, 222 were dead and over 850 wounded.

Bloodied but focused on the task, they went again the next day. And the one after that. But little headway was being made. An intense artillery barrage now directed followed by yet another assault.

The casualties mounted, but still the German troops dug in. The fighting laboured on for three weeks, and in its final stages, foot by foot, hand to hand, it intensified in savagery.

Guns and grenades gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers”, eight-inch triangular blades set on knuckle-handles, as the Marines slashed their way through the last of their enemy.

As the story goes, German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde “Devil Dogs”; and journalist Gibbons also helped, singling out one gunnery sergeant in dispatches as “Devil Dog Dan”. Either way, the name and image stuck and went on to become a Marine mascot.

“It was the day the US Marines went from being a small force few people knew about to personifying elite status in the US military,” says Andrew Wiest. The corps had roots dating back to the American War of Independence but from Belleau, there developed much of its modern lore and myth.

More significantly, and of strategic importance, their intervention at Belleau and that of their 2nd and 3rd Division colleagues at the time in the surrounding area on the Marne put paid to the German advance, at what was a dangerous moment in the war for the Allies.

The commander of the US First Division Robert Lee Bullard declared after it: “The Marines didn’t win the war here. But they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”

The Battle of Belleau Wood was a meat grinder. The Americans who fell there, as well as those who survived, are spoken of with reverence by both their actual descendants and those within the Profession of Arms. The US Marine Corps considers its modern history, especially of being something other than the Navy’s police force, began at Belleau Wood.

Author Alan Axelrod put it best in his book Miracle at Belleau Wood: “created … in 1775, the United States Marine Corps was born in that French forest … in 1918.”

Here’s a short video of Gen (ret) James Amos, the 35th Commandant of the US Marine Corps, at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Monument on Memorial Day 2014.

Today the President has failed to keep his honor clean…

Open thread.

* It is from this series of battles that the 3rd Infantry would pick up its nickname: The Rock of the Marne Division.



Raw Venality Open Thread: When Your Only Instrument Is A Racist Dog Whistle…

Eventually, even the media stenographers start to lose patience:


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GOP Xenophobia Electioneering : Trump Will Build His Wall Out of “His” Soldiers’ Bodies

… because those troops mean as little to him as the crappy green plastic ‘army men’ figures normal kids use as disposable toys.

If he’s gonna watch Fox News like it was a paid job, can’t his aides at least add some Shep Smith segments to his playbacks?


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