Even if it weren’t his cronies proliferating DIY nukes in the Middle East, Individual-1 could be (even) more troubling for world peace in the coming months. There may be no one among his underlings to restrain his dog-wagging capability.
Mattis’s departure seems to be provoking unease, especially considering how dangerous our nuclear-command arrangements are. The notion that Mattis, a former four-star Marine Corps general, could have blocked or defied a move by Trump to impulsively launch nuclear weapons may have seemed comforting, but it shouldn’t have been. The secretary of defense has no legal position in the nuclear chain of command, and any attempts by a secretary of defense to prevent the president from exercising the authority to use nuclear weapons would be undemocratic and illegal. With or without Mattis, the president has unchecked and complete authority to launch nuclear weapons based on his sole discretion.
Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.
Mattis has had the wisdom to remember both world wars, and both possible paths to war — appeasement of a dangerous aggressor, on the one hand, and rivalry among great powers producing a spiraling cycle to conflict on the other.
He has been the adult in the room, and the adult in national security circles writ large. We need a successor with the same judicious, thoughtful and wise view of history — and of today’s dangerous moment.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.