The journalists at CBS This Morning on Monday ignored the harsh words former Defense Secretary James Mattis has for Barack Obama and for Joe Biden in his new book. Instead, the hosts used their Labor Day interview to try and get Mattis to criticize Donald Trump.
Despite knowing that Mattis won’t talk about a sitting president, Anthony Mason quizzed, “What do you think the President got wrong about Syria?” Guest host Maria Elena Salinas demanded, “Your resignation letter is in that book and it’s been made public. Was it your decision to leave or were you fired or were you pushed into resigning or pressured into resigning?”
Host Tony Dokoupil wryly tried from another angle, wondering of Mattis’s new book: “This is a book about leadership and a good book at that. What would you say is your favorite leadership quality of the sitting president?”
What’s missing from all of the questions coming from CBS This Morning? Any mention of Obama or Biden. As NPR explained, Mattis hammers them in his new book:
Mattis also recounts a meeting in Iraq with then-Vice President Joe Biden in the run-up to the U.S. withdrawal.
"He wanted our forces out of Iraq," Mattis writes. "Whatever path led there fastest, he favored. He exuded the confidence of a man whose mind was made up, perhaps even indifferent to considering the consequences were he judging the situation incorrectly."
He called some of Obama’s choices “catastrophic.” Mattis also critiqued Obama’s handling of Afghanistan:
President Obama said in 2011 that he would draw down troops in Afghanistan (in addition to the complete withdrawal in Iraq).
"I had been assigned two contradictory objectives," Mattis writes.
On CBS Sunday Morning, Pentagon reporter David Martin scored another interview with Mattis. Instead of asking the general about his objections to Obama policy while serving as the Commander of the United States Central Command, Martin put the blame on Mattis:
Before James Mattis parted ways with President Trump, he was ousted by President Obama. How did it end for you with the Obama administration?... You were relieved of command.... So the President essentially had lost confidence in you?
There was no mention in the interview of Mattis’s thoughts on 2020 Democrat Biden.
A transcript of the CBS This Morning questions is below. Click "expand" to read more.
CBS This Morning
TONY DOKOUPIL: Former Defense Secretary General James Mattis is in Studio 57 for his first live interview since resigning from the Trump administration. His new book is Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. In it, General Mattis writes, “I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign.” General Mattis served as Secretary of Defense for nearly two years. During his long career in the Marine Corp before his service as Defense Secretary, he held key roles leading troops in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. General, good morning. Good to see you. You served almost two years. I know you expected to serve four. How is this unexpected summer going?
GENERAL JAMES MATTIS: It's going wonderful, west of the rockies. Tony, I’m enjoying life.
ANTHONY MASON: Do you miss Washington?
MATTIS: I miss the people in Washington. I don't miss any of the issues, Anthony. Not one bit.
DOKOUPIL: You told our David Martin the pullout from Syria, announced pullout from Syria by President Trump of troops from Syria weighed heavily in your decision to resign. How did you know it was time not only — actually that issue has reversed itself. Troops are remaining in Syria. So, I'm curious. Do you wish you could reverse yourself or go back?
MATTIS: No. I make decisions. I don't have regrets about them. I've always believed strongly that America needs allies. I stand on that because my formative experiences were that whenever we were in trouble, we had allies with us and I wanted the President to have someone more aligned with his views and I needed to leave.
MASON: What do you the President got wrong about Syria?
MATTIS: Well, I think when you lead an administration over policy matters and I laid that out in the letter when I noted the need for allies, I think you owe a period of silence afterward. We have a million troops around the world who are trying to defend this experiment called America. I don't believe administration officials should leave the administration and then start creating controversy with comments outside when they owe a period — I call it a duty — of silence, long enough for the Secretary of State, the President, Secretary of Defense, to protect the country
DOKOUPIL: [Slyly spoken] If not controversy, maybe compliments. This is a book about leadership and a good book at that. What would you say is your favorite leadership quality of the sitting president?
MARIA ELENA SALINAS: When and why did you decide to include your time with the Trump administration into this book? You said you’ve been writing this for five years.
SALINAS: Your resignation letter is in that book and it’s been made public. Was it your decision to leave or were you fired or were you pushed into resigning or pressured into resigning?
MASON: The President — The day before you resigned last December, the President on Twitter said, “We have won against ISIS.” Secretary Pompeo was here a couple weeks and he said, in some places, now ISIS is more powerful than it was three or four years ago. What do you think has happened?
DOKOUPIL: Homeland Security Secretary McAleenan told Anthony Mason not long ago that the biggest threat internally is white extremism, white supremacist extremism. Would you say that there needs to be a re-prioritizing of Defense money toward that threat here at home?
DOKOUPIL: Do you think this President can heal that divisiveness?
MATTIS: I think this is not about one person or one administration.
SALINAS: When you talk about this internal divisiveness, that's the big threat to our democracy. Are you talking about Congress? Are you talking about the politicians being divided? Are you talking about the country being divided? What do you think is the biggest threat to our democracy?