Former Speechwriter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and retired Navy Commander Guy Snodgrass is out with a book that purports to be an insider's of what it was like at the Pentagon during Mattis' time as defense chief. As Sondgrass tells it, Trump's foreign and defense policy is a dangerous one that undermines alliances and is driven out of a petty desire to undermine former President Obama's legacy.
Naturally, this had led to Songrass's book receiving positive reviews from the media. On Wednesday, Snodgrass found himself on CNN Right Now on to talk about the book, but one critic's take was noticeably absent: Mattis.
Snodgrass paints himself as a truth teller who is warning about a president who is a grave threat to national security, but according to Mattis assistant Candace Currier, describes Snodgras as a "junior staffer who took notes in some meetings but played no role in decision making. His choice to write a book reveals an absence of character." He accuses Snodgrass of writing to book as an act of self-promotion and says that Snodgrass "surrendered his honor."
Mattis disagreed with the president and did the honorable thing of resigning, Snodgrass, on the other hand wrote a book and when given the chance to press him on this discrepancy, Keilar declined.
Host Brianna Keilar began by asking Snodgrass about a situation where "Japan was footing the bill to move U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam and the president's reaction was surprising to you all. He wanted to know basically why the U.S. was paying for any of it. Tell me more about that."
Snodgrass used the example to accuse Trump of not being "laser focused on national security" and dismissing the advice of those around him including Mattis.
Keilar then asked if such episodes make Trump a hypocrite, "Is it possible for you to square a president who talks a lot about the military and rebuilding the military and then a president that you describe in your book who largely does not see a place for the military other countries." Snodgrass responded in broad terms about America having an "important place on the world stage" and that what "We're seeing that today with what’s happening with the ad hoc and sporadic Syria withdrawal" is proof of Trump's dangerous national security policies.
Speaking of presidents who, by their own admission, had ad hoc foreign policies, Snodgrass found the need to defend Obama, "When you’re in that meeting and you realize that President Trump is more fixated on undermining his predecessor and putting medals on his own chest, and ripping the stripes off of President Obama’s sleeve, it's one of those things where, again, that's not where his focus should be."
A question Keilar didn’t ask: Why is it your job to protect the agenda and legacy of the Obama administration? Would journalists approve of an Obama-era official who attempted to protect George W. Bush’s policies?
Keilar ended the segment by asking how persuasive Mattis was, "I mean, in the end General Mattis resigned because the president said he was pulling troops out of Syria. Then we actually saw the president didn’t really make good on that until somewhat recently as he's moved them from Northern Syria." Snodgrass dodged the question and accused Trump of not listening to his experts.
Here is a transcript for the October 30 show:
CNN Right Now with Brianna Keilar
1:42 PM ET
BRIANNA KELIAR: For almost two years General James Mattis served as President Trump's Secretary of Defense and a new book paints a candid chaotic scene in the higher ranks of the Pentagon during that time and how it led to the eventual resignation of General Mattis. The book is called "Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis" and former speechwriter to Secretary Mattis and retired Navy Commander Guy Snodgrass is the author and he’s here with us now. Thank you for joining us in studio, we appreciate it.
GUY SNODGRASS: Thanks Brianna. Thanks for having me
KEILAR: There’s a lot, there are many interesting parts to this book, but one in particular is the president’s first briefing at the Pentagon about six months into his tenure and it really seems like the Pentagon was all abuzz trying to get this ready, showing him, really briefing him on the state of U.S. Forces in the world and there’s a particular part where knowing of course that he's concerned about the economic piece, General Mattis actually said and explained that Japan was footing the bill to move U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam and the president's reaction was surprising to you all. He wanted to know basically why the U.S. was paying for any of it. Tell me more about that.
SNODGRASS: You know, when you're in that type of scenario, much like you mentioned, you want a president to walk into that room and to be laser focused on national security, on what's best for the American public and of course strengthening our alliances and partnerships around the world and so for him to walk in with a scowl on his face, automatically dismissing anything that Secretary Mattis or Tillerson or Gary Cohn was going to share with him about America's place in this world and the importance of our military and what we do abroad was very disruptive, it was disappointing to see that. We need a president who is laser focused on national security.
KEILAR: Is it possible for you to square a president who talks a lot about the military and rebuilding the military and then a president that you describe in your book who largely does not see a place for the military other countries.
SNODGRASS: So, we wanted to share with the president that America gets a eat return on invested capital. When you send a few troops overseas, you get a lot in return for doing that, not least of which is the fact that America has an important place on the world stage. People need to be able to trust that America is a partner of choice. We're seeing that today with what’s happening with the ad hoc and sporadic Syria withdrawal and then we’re back in and that’s what this book does. It brings the reader inside the room for those types of decision makings. When you’re in that meeting and you realize that President Trump is more fixated on undermining his predecessor and putting medals on his own chest, and ripping the stripes off of President Obama’s sleeve, it's one of those things where, again, that's not where his focus should be.
KEILAR: Did you think that General Mattis was able to convince him -- I mean, in the end General Mattis resigned because the president said he was pulling troops out of Syria. Then we actually saw the president didn’t really make good on that until somewhat recently as he's moved them from Northern Syria. Did you see General Mattis having a positive impact in convincing the president to go against his own nature and more with the prevailing ideas about what was right in the national security community?
SNODGRASS: There's no doubt that Mattis is a patriot. He served the country incredibly well for more than four decades as a Marine Corps officer and as a general and further on as the Secretary of Defense, so when you think about the service he played maybe the first six months to a year in the administration, the president relied more heavily on those national security experts, but unfortunately, the president has certainly relied more on his confidence and his misplaced confidence than he had on his own competence and that's dangerous.
KEILAR: Guy Snodgrass, thank you so much. We can out your new book "Holding the line". Definitely worth reading. Thanks for coming in.