What Mattis Needs to Do As Defense Secretary

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The arcane art of measuring the health of civil-military relations is experiencing a renaissance. Although it is welcomed by those who practice it, the reasons for the renewed focus are less so.  Contributing factors include 15 years of continuous wartime deployments and the lack of a shared experience between the general public and the small percentage of Americans who have served or whose family members have served. Add on to that more recent tension over the obligation of military personnel to obey presidential orders regardless of legality, as well as the role of retired senior military officers in the electoral process, presidential transition, and in populating the Trump administration, and you have the makings of a potential civil-military crisis.

Enter Jim Mattis, née General and now Secretary of Defense. It is not without irony that Mattis is seen as one of the Trump administration’s foremost diplomats rather than a “mad dog” military man. Perhaps that perception reflects the low bar for American diplomacy today, but I believe Mattis deserves more credit than that. He has moved with a sure and steady hand to underscore the full faith and credit of the United States to allies, friends, and foes alike. If only the White House could follow his example.

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