Andrea Mitchell Fears Mattis ‘Normalizing’ President By Not Trashing Trump

Throughout her interview with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell repeatedly urged him to criticize Trump. After Mattis refused to do so, Mitchell lectured: “Do you fear that you might be normalizing the decisions of this president because you are so critical of his predecessors?”

Early in the nearly 30-minute interview, Mitchell fretted: “Aren’t our alliances now weaker than they were when you took office?...in the last two and a half years, we’ve seen our alliances weakened in NATO. Certainly in Asia and in Europe.” Mattis pushed back: “I think we’re into the fourth straight year or fifth straight year of the nations, almost all of them, increasing their defense budget. So I could quantitatively NATO’s actually stronger today.”

 

 

Minutes later, she tried to force the former Trump cabinet official to denounce the administration for plans to use Defense Department funding to build the southern U.S. border wall:

We’ve now got – our reporting is that 127 military projects that were supposed to be underway and also including daycare centers. Daycare centers at Joint Base Andrews are having the money that was appropriated by Congress taken away to, quote, “build the war.” How is that appropriate? I mean, it’s taking money away from military families....So aren’t you creating a new problem when you spend money, billions of dollars to build a wall that arguably isn’t needed to fulfill a campaign promise and take money away from daycare for military families?

Mattis resisted entering the political fray: “Yeah, Andrea, having left the administration and laid out in writing and straightforward manner with the President, before I left, that I was leaving on policy differences, I believe in an old French saying of ‘devoir de réserve,’ a period of silence.”

Mitchell scoffed: “I know you don’t want to discuss it, but I know you care about the troops and their families.” Mattis corrected her: “Well, we all care about the troops. And I think that’s true about Republicans, Democrats, that’s true about the White House and the executive – and the legislative branch.”

Seeming to abandon her efforts to get Mattis to become a Trump critic, Mitchell turned to the retired Marine Corps general’s new book on leadership, Call Sign Chaos: “But moving on to leadership and reading. You have an entire appendix devoted to your reading list.” However, only seconds later she sneered: “What does it say about a chief executive who does not read?” She quickly added: “I’m just speaking hypothetically.”

Mattis wasn’t buying it: “Andrea, I’m going to frustrate you here. I’m not gonna comment – ” Mitchell insisted she wasn’t talking about Trump: “No, I’m not asking about him. I’m not asking you about the importance of reading for a CEO, for a chief executive, for a commander.” On that premise, Mattis responded in part:

This is what I learned along the way. Plus, the Marine Corps, at every rank when you get promoted, gives you a new reading list. You know, sergeants get a reading list. Majors get a reading list when they make major. And generals, when you make general, you’re handed a new list of books you’ve got to go read. You’re not considered complete.

Mitchell then made a snide, thinly-veiled reference to the President: “Maybe someone should give one to a commander-in-chief, starting with Call Sign Chaos.”

Wrapping up the discussion, Mitchell worried that Mattis was too critical of President Obama in the book while not going after Trump:

And just finally, you’re taking some criticism because you’re so critical of President Obama and his decisions, Joe Biden’s decisions, George W. Bush, in fact, in Iraq and elsewhere, that you are reluctant to deal with what happened in this – what is happening in this administration. Do you fear that you might be normalizing the decisions of this president because you are so critical of his predecessors?

Mattis dismissed her concerns: “Yeah, I don’t think one person can normalize anything. Right now I’ve got a lot of faith in the American people to draw their own conclusions.”

Mitchell’s sentiment echoed a Wednesday interview with Mattis on Morning Joe, where co-host Mika Brzezinski implored: “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?”

Here are excerpts of Mitchell’s lengthy September 5 interview with Mattis:

12:41 PM ET

(...)

ANDREA MITCHELL: Aren’t our alliances now weaker than they were when you took office?

JIM MATTIS: Well, I don’t think I can quantify that.

MITCHELL: I don’t mean you personally, but in the last two and a half years, we’ve seen our alliances weakened in NATO. Certainly in Asia and in Europe.

MATTIS: You know, Andrea, if you take a look at current events you can always see the tensions because that’s what grabs your attention, is the tensions in those alliances. However, right now you see a NATO – I think we’re into the fourth straight year or fifth straight year of the nations, almost all of them, increasing their defense budget. So I could quantitatively NATO’s actually stronger today. Now, there are political tensions. Those tensions have always been there in NATO, where the American presidents – I remember all the way back to President Clinton when I became aware of this issue – President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama all saying the same thing President Trump is, “You’ve got to pay more.”

(...)

12:44 PM ET

MITCHELL: We’ve now got – our reporting is that 127 military projects that were supposed to be underway and also including daycare centers. Daycare centers at Joint Base Andrews are having the money that was appropriated by Congress taken away to, quote, “build the war.” How is that appropriate? I mean, it’s taking money away from military families. People that whose service you know and admire and treasure.

MATTIS: Well, the military exists to defend the country. That’s its primary mission. And what I learned and I try to lay out in the book that I wrote for all the young people, whether they be military or political or business or they’re running a school district in their hometown. First spend time deciding on what the problem is. And it takes a while. Einstein was asked, how would you save the world if you had one hour? He said, “I’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and save the world in five minutes.” I think we spend too little time, even in this town, between the executive and legislative branch agreeing on what is the problem we’re trying to solve. And so, when you come up with solutions, nobody agrees on the solutions.

MITCHELL: So aren’t you creating a new problem when you spend money, billions of dollars to build a wall that arguably isn’t needed to fulfill a campaign promise and take money away from daycare for military families?

MATTIS: Yeah, Andrea, having left the administration and laid out in writing and straightforward manner with the President, before I left, that I was leaving on policy differences, I believe in an old French saying of “devoir de réserve,” a period of silence.

MITCHELL: I know you don’t want to discuss it, but I know you care about the troops and their families.

MATTIS: Well, we all care about the troops. And I think that’s true about Republicans, Democrats, that’s true about the White House and the executive – and the legislative branch.

(...)

12:50 PM ET

MITCHELL: But moving on to leadership and reading. You have an entire appendix devoted to your reading list. And you write compellingly about when you were at the war college, and you
know, you really absorbed the importance of reading. You write that, “Reading doesn’t give you all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead.” Your personal library has thousands, thousands, I mean 7,000 books in it. What does it say about a chief executive who does not read? I’m just speaking hypothetically.

MATTIS: Andrea, I’m going to frustrate you here. I’m not gonna comment –

MITCHELL: No, I’m not asking about him. I’m not asking you about the importance of reading for a CEO, for a chief executive, for a commander.

MATTIS: Well, I think that any time you have a leadership team, and that’s what the President and his cabinet is – or in a corporation, the CEO and the board of directors – you have to have people with strengths and weaknesses. I know I’m not strong in all areas. One of the reasons I read is to buttress my weak areas frankly. But you’ve done reviews of literature in your life and you know the value to them. But not everyone has turned out the same as myself. And this is what worked for me. This is what I learned along the way. Plus, the Marine Corps, at every rank when you get promoted, gives you a new reading list. You know, sergeants get a reading list. Majors get a reading list when they make major. And generals, when you make general, you’re handed a new list of books you’ve got to go read. You’re not considered complete.

MITCHELL: Maybe someone should give one to a commander-in-chief, starting with Call Sign Chaos.

(...)

12:53 PM ET

MITCHELL: And just finally, you’re taking some criticism because you’re so critical of President Obama and his decisions, Joe Biden’s decisions, George W. Bush, in fact, in Iraq and elsewhere, that you are reluctant to deal with what happened in this – what is happening in this administration. Do you fear that you might be normalizing the decisions of this president because you are so critical of his predecessors?

MATTIS: Yeah, I don’t think one person can normalize anything. Right now I’ve got a lot of faith in the American people to draw their own conclusions. But remember that I signed the contract to write a book about military leadership in 2013. I was not the secretary of defense, I never aspired to be the secretary of defense. Joe Biden was not running for president. And it’s a book written about policy and strategy. I don’t even in this book get into political assessments of who the American people elected.

MITCHELL: But now can’t you speak more publicly about your assessments?

MATTIS: The U.S. Military, since the time of George Washington, during Abraham Lincoln’s time, has dealt with this. George Marshall, General Bradley said when generals retire their uniform they should make sure they retire their tongue about politics. I stay with the military tradition all the way through and the current political discussions are not something I want the U.S. Military to be engaged in.

And by the way, my predecessor, Secretary Carter, under the Obama administration, also steeled himself to say he would not engage in the same sorts of discussions. So this is a military, Department of Defense tradition that we maintain the military’s apolitical role obedient to the elected leadership. And the American people have good judgment. They will make the right decisions. I believe very strongly in our Constitution and our form of government.

(...)

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