Tillerson for Secretary of State and Mattis for Secretary of Defense. It is unlikely they will be stopped in a Republican dominated congress, but I think both outstanding picks in any event. General Mattis is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, while Mr. Tillerson brings much experience in international affairs as the head of ExxonMobil. His prominence in that company make some question whether he will be able to place serving our country above serving ExxonMobil. I think he will and, if it seems useful, will argue that in another post.
While there are a multitude of things to judge a president on, I value most a presidential team who can best handle a “world in disarray”, in the words of foreign policy expert Richard Haass. The potential for a more chaotic international situation abounds and that makes me more anxious than anything else.
That’s why I backed Hillary Clinton, not because I’m a flaming liberal as my more conservative friends think, but because she had the best credentials to deal with this chaos.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, may be more likely to add to it, if judged by his statements. Fortunately, I do not take his statements seriously, unless he keeps repeating them, like building a wall on the Mexican border.
A contrary example is his proclaiming if elected he would launch an investigation of Hillary Clinton. Once he won he didn’t care about that and chided his fans for dwelling on the idea, as if he needed to teach them the difference between what one says to win (which can be anything) and what one really cares about.
Beyond wanting full attention all the time, I’m still trying to figure out what Trump cares about. I guess endless adulation might be a new goal. Or being the second coming?
Whatever Donald Trump says is what he feels is useful to him at the moment. He will change it later if some other words seem more useful. He thinks he has great political instincts and he must have some or he wouldn’t be president.
Back to Mattis and Tillerson. And I would add Michael Flynn. General Flynn makes Mattis and Tillerson all the more important. Flynn is Trump’s national security advisor, the guy tasked with basically synthesizing the foreign security information for the president each day. He may often be the last guy in the room.
The three men make up the most significant advisers to President Trump when it comes to foreign affairs (1). And, unlike the other two, Flynn seems a loose canon. He has called Islam a “cancer,” not radical Islam, but Islam itself. He also retweeted false and/or scurrilous information during the campaign (2).
While both Mattis and Tillerson seem more inclined to push back harder on aggressive efforts by Russia and other adversaries than has been true with President Obama , both seem likely to offer more measured responses than General Flynn might advise.
Consider this analogy. Think of President Trump as a guy who drives around with the other three and often gets too drunk to drive, but at times can be persuaded to give up the keys. I’m hoping that Mattis or Tillerson will be the one to grab them (3).
(1) A caveat about those three being Trump’s primary advisers on foreign affairs. It is impossible to know a this point how much Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, might influence any decisions he will make. Kushner is hard to peg, but Bannon’s being the former head of Britebart News, which thrives on conspiracy theories, might give you a clue.
(2) This article at CNN gives details on Flynn’s provocative tweets.
(3) Yes, I know Trump doesn’t even drink. But he often says things that remind me of a nasty drunk. I do not feel much compunction to be fair to a man who was patently unfair to so many in his clamber to the top. I will point out, however, things he does do that make sense to me, like nominating Mattis and Tillerson.