Morning Joe Urges Mattis to Bash Trump or ‘Become Part of the Problem’

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During an interview with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the cast of MSNBC’s Morning Joe repeatedly demanded the retired Marine Corps general bash President Trump or risk becoming “part of the problem.” Mattis pushed back, saying that such criticism would be neither “helpful” nor “necessary.”  

After the show’s liberal panel urged Mattis to condemn Trump administration plans to use $3.6 billion in Defense Department funding to begin construction of a southern U.S. border wall, the former Pentagon chief replied: “I’m not in a position, I think, to walk out of the administration over a policy disagreement and then become a critic....I don’t want to add to what’s simply right now the corrosive political debates. I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t think it’s necessary.”

 

 

Upon hearing that, co-host Mika Brzezinski lectured:

And with all, you know, due respect, there are obviously national security secrets and issues you can’t speak on, but there’s so much to say about the damage being done to our alliances, the breakdown of our core values. The respect for the basics of our Constitution. At what point, when is it time to stand up and speak to what is happening?...And at what point is it important to say something or become part of the problem? Because we know what is happening, we see what is happening, and yet nobody speaks to it with the insight that perhaps someone – you would have, like you would have.

In part, Mattis pointed out: “I think, too, this goes back several administrations. This didn’t start overnight. This isn’t about one man.”

Later in the discussion, co-host Joe Scarborough wondered if there was a “statute of limitations” on the silence from Mattis about Trump. Mattis acknowledged that some day it may be appropriate for him to share his disagreements with the President “on policy and strategy” but “not right now.”

That wasn’t good enough for Scarborough: “What about competence and character to actually be commander in chief?” Mattis rejected the notion: “I believe the political assessments should be left to the wisdom of the American people.” Moments later, Scarborough joked: “We think, though, you should make an exception before the 2020 election.”

Not wanting to let the topic go, liberal pundit Mike Barnicle jumped in:

And so, a year ago tomorrow, someone, I don't know who, wrote an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times. And in part, they wrote this, “To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left, we want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous, but we believe our first duty is to this country and the President continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. The root of the problem is the President’s amorality, anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” Do you agree with that?

Mattis slammed the anonymous op-ed author for “cowardice” and remarked: “If I felt that strongly about something, I would have signed it.” He then dismissed the attempt to get him to pile on:

So we’re going to have to address this in less personal terms than whether or not we agree with a condemnation of any single political leader. Because I’m sure I can find a letter just as damming about people on the left. This is the very problem we face right now. Instead of being hard on the issues, we're hard on each other, and we actually let the issues go. I mean, you’re talking about issues here this morning that we’ve not yet even defined the problem we’re trying to solve to mutual agreement.

Of course none of the questions asked by the Morning Joe crew focused on Mattis blasting President Obama’s “catastrophic decisions” and “failure” on foreign policy in his new book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.

In an interview with Mattis on Monday, CBS This Morning similarly ignored those criticisms of Obama while demanding Mattis attack Trump.

Here is a transcript of the September 4 exchange with Mattis:

7:16 AM ET

(...)

JIM MATTIS: I’m not in a position, I think, to walk out of the administration over a policy disagreement and then become a critic. I believe in what the French call “a duty of quiet,” “devoir de réserve,” and the reason is, I don’t want to add to what’s simply right now the corrosive political debates. I don’t think it’s helpful. I don’t think it’s necessary.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: So to that point, I mean, earlier in the conversation, we talked about our values being worth defending. And with all, you know, due respect, there are obviously national security secrets and issues you can’t speak on, but there’s so much to say about the damage being done to our alliances, the breakdown of our core values. The respect for the basics of our Constitution. At what point, when is it time to stand up and speak to what is happening? And you may call it the cheap seats, but you have a lot more insight and credibility than anybody who’s ever been at this table.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Except maybe Barnicle. [Laughter]

BRZEZINSKI: And at what point is it important to say something or become part of the problem? Because we know what is happening, we see what is happening, and yet nobody speaks to it with the insight that perhaps someone – you would have, like you would have.

MATTIS: Well, I don’t know how I could have spoken more loudly to where I stand than what I put in my letter of resignation, and quitting a job when I had not completed it, two years in. I think, too, this goes back several administrations. This didn’t start overnight. This isn’t about one man. And the solution’s not going to be about one person speaking out. It’s going to be about the majority of Americans, and that’s enough. We owe better to the next generation than what we’re doing right now. And we grew up in the luckiest generation, all of us at this table, the greatest generation raised us. We are not turning that over to the next generation.

SCARBOROUGH: Right. Weren’t you helped, though – I’m sorry. Weren’t you helped though by reading Robert Gates book where he talked about the shortcomings of the presidents he worked for? Wasn’t that helpful to you as you prepared for your own?

MATTIS: It was very helpful, and each of the former secretaries of defense, from both Republican and Democrat administrations immediately made themselves available, would come and have lunch with me. The point I would make there is that what the right-wing Senator Vandenberg from Michigan said when challenged, “Why do you work with that terrible Democrat President Truman?” And he said, “The defense of the country is a nonpartisan issue, basically.” He said, “Politics ends at the water’s edge.” What is the institution that is most admired and the American public has the most confidence in, in polls year after year? It’s the military. Why is that? Because we’re apolitical. We stay out of the politics. We defend the experiment that you and I call America.

SCARBOROUGH: Is there a statute of limitations?

MATTIS: Probably, on policy and strategy, there will come a time, not right now, when –

SCARBOROUGH: What about competence and character to actually be commander in chief?

MATTIS: I believe the political assessments should be left to the wisdom of the American people.

SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you this question –

MATTIS: I have this much – well, let me just make a point. General Bradley after World War II was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he said when a general retires their uniform, they should retire their tongue on these kinds of issues, and the reason is, when I walked into your studio this morning, people greeted me as General Mattis. Now, I consider myself Jim Mattis, I’m from the west, and I’m Jim, but I will be forever, in some people’s eyes, a general. And I think we have a tradition that goes back over 200 years – George Washington, George Marshall – that military people do not dictate or pass evaluations on political leaders or tell the American people, “This is the way you should be thinking.” Or maybe some people would misinterpret it and say, “He’s telling the uniformed military now how they should be voting.” I don’t think this is helpful at all.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, and I will remind my wife – hey, honey – that Dr. Brzezinski –

BRZEZINKSI: Oh, true, yeah.

SCARBOROUGH: Dr. Brzezinski, I don’t know if you all knew this or not, he had opinions, lots of opinions, and he always shared those opinions, but in the 10-15 years that I knew him, in the most private of conversations, he never once said anything negative about Jimmy Carter, his commander in chief. It was always positive, and if you tried to ever move him there, a wall went up, so I always respected and admired him for that.

We think, though, you should make an exception before the 2020 election.

(...)

MIKE BARNICLE: You know, Bing, what you just said gets to you [pointing to Mattis] and your life, and you said to Mika that you don’t want to be speaking from the cheap seats. You, almost more than anyone I know, paid for your cheap seat. Paid for it in blood and treasure and the leadership of men who you lost. And so, a year ago tomorrow, someone, I don't know who, wrote an anonymous op-ed...

BRZEZINSKI: Yeah.

BARNICLE: ...in The New York Times. And in part, they wrote this, “To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left, we want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous, but we believe our first duty is to this country and the President continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. The root of the problem is the President’s amorality, anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.” Do you agree with that?

MATTIS: I wouldn’t comment on it other than to say that I’ve never believed in cowardice. If I felt that strongly about something, I would have signed it. I would have been right up front about it. I think you would owe that degree of candor. But I think, too, we have to look at this as a test of everyone’s character in America.

Again, I don’t think we have a problem today that suddenly mushroomed into our observation and what we’re seeing here in the last six months, last two years, or last five years. I think this is a growing problem inside America. We’ve lost a fundamental friendliness with one another. We’ve lost a sense of fairness, we really believe, in some cases, that our people believe, “I’m right about everything and that guy is wrong about everything.”

And if we don’t wake up to the idea that the people we disagree with are fellow Americans, if we don’t understand that once in a while people we disagree with are actually right and if we don’t roll up our sleeves and start working together, then we’re going to have a problem in this experiment because this was set up so it would not work without cooperation, collaboration, and compromise. It was set up that way with three co-equal branches of government. And just to add more problems to it, there’s a bicameral legislature.

So we’re going to have to address this in less personal terms than whether or not we agree with a condemnation of any single political leader. Because I’m sure I can find a letter just as damming about people on the left. This is the very problem we face right now. Instead of being hard on the issues, we're hard on each other, and we actually let the issues go. I mean, you’re talking about issues here this morning that we’ve not yet even defined the problem we’re trying to solve to mutual agreement.

(...)

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