On December 9th, the Washington Post covered Donald Trump’s offhand, if long expected, announcement of the ousting of retired Marine General John Kelly from an embattled White House. Its report focused on the chief of staff’s “rocky tenure” there with a nod to his many merits, among them that he “often talked the president out of his worst impulses.” Buried deep in the piece, though, was a single line that caught my eye (and possibly that of no one else on this planet): “Kelly told others that among his biggest accomplishments was keeping the president from making rash military moves, such as removing troops from sensitive zones.”
It was admittedly neither a direct quote, nor attributed to anyone, nor elaborated on in the rest of the piece. So that’s all we know, not whether Kelly took particular pride in stopping the president from removing American troops from, say, Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or for that matter Niger. But however passing and non-specific that line may have been, it seemed to catch something striking about these last two years, a time when those in the mainstream opposition to the president have come to love so many of the retired generals and former heads of outfits like the National Security Agency and the CIA, and have turned them into the equivalent of security blankets for the rest of us. They were the men (because they wereall men) intent on talking Donald Trump out of “his worst impulses” and so, in the phrase of the era, they were the “adults in the room.”
Thanks to the wars and other shenanigans that those “adults” had already been so deeply involved in and the money — more than $5 trillion of it — squandered on them, they were also the men who helped generate the dissatisfaction that gave Donald Trump his opening in the first place. And now, having been part of the problem, they are in full chorus condemnation of Donald Trump’s most recent solution: to withdraw American troops from Syria (and soon evidently from Afghanistan as well). We — that is, the country whose actions were crucial in creating ISIS in the first place — are now the only “bulwark” against its return. That goes without saying, of course, among Republicans, Democrats, the national security elite, America’s generals, and that last “adult” in the room, Secretary of Defense James Mattis — or at least it did until, days ago, he resigned in protest. And as U.S. Army major and TomDispatch regular Danny Sjursen suggests in his year-ending piece, as that one Washington Post line about Kelly indicates, they worked awfully hard to ensure that President Trump wouldn’t withdraw from any part of the mess they made. With that thought in mind and withdrawals about to be under way on an increasingly grim planet, Happy New Year!
- The World According to the “Adults in the Room”
A Year of Forever War in Review
Danny Sjursen • December 23, 2018 • 3,100 Words