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What Mattis' Resignation Could Mean For Global Politics


A chorus of concern about the resignation of former General Jim Mattis as secretary of defense this week. Mr. Mattis personally handed a letter of resignation to the president, which courteously but unmistakably accused the president of not treating traditional U.S. allies well and disregarding the threat of China, Russia and other authoritarian governments. Kori Schake joins us from London. She's deputy director general of The International Institute for Strategic Studies. She was an adviser on national security under the administration of President George W. Bush, and she edited a book with Jim Mattis, "Warriors & Citizens: American Views On Our Military." Thanks so much for being with us, Ms. Schake.

KORI SCHAKE: It's a great pleasure.

SIMON: You knew Secretary Mattis, of course. What do you think went into his decision to leave now?

SCHAKE: Well, I think Secretary Mattis spoke very forcefully for himself that the president has a view of the world that is making America less safe and likely less prosperous by denigrating our friends and allies and encouraging challenges by our adversaries and rising powers. And I thought there were two really important points about the secretary's resignation letter - first, what a forceful case he made for what has governed - the ideology that has governed American foreign policy for the last 70 years since the end of World War II. And the second thing that I thought was really important was that - his acknowledgement that the elected president has a right to a Cabinet that reflects the president's views and works assiduously to carry out the president's policies.

SIMON: I noted that line, too, you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours. But, practically, speaking as someone who's been in government, do you worry that President Trump is only going to hear his own viewpoint echoed over and over again and not independent thinking in areas like foreign policy where, after all, he does not have a lot of practical experience?

SCHAKE: (Laughter) That's an understatement, Scott. Yes, I do think the decisions the president's made in the last year, the personnel decisions in particular, have been determined to push away people who have views different than his own and to reinforce his own preferences. He's got a right to that. Congress also has a really important role to play in determining whether he gets that. The confirmation process is our way of ensuring that the president - to acknowledge other views.

SIMON: It was pretty openly reported over these past couple of years that Secretary Mattis, General Kelly and Secretary of State Tillerson had a kind of working agreement not to leave President Trump on his own with major decisions. Was this always a little unworkable and even patronizing? I mean, Donald Trump was elected president, after all.

SCHAKE: I would be astonished if that rumor were true because that would be an act of real unprofessionalism on all three of their parts. And I think all three of them are more professional than to have engaged in that. Moreover, as the history of it played out, it wasn't true, right (laughter)? So...

SIMON: Another major story that might have been overlooked in a busy week - North Korea said this week it won't denuclearize until U.S. withdraws forces from South Korea and Japan. Do you have...

SCHAKE: That has...

SIMON: Yes, go ahead.

SCHAKE: I'm sorry. I was just going to say that has been North Korea's position forever. Their view of denuclearization is that they give up their nuclear weapons when the United States gives up its nuclear weapons. We haven't had nuclear weapons stationed in South Korea since 1992. That's not what the North Koreans are talking about. And if the president had actually had listened to North Korean experts, proliferation experts, he would have understood that when the North Koreans were agreeing to complete denuclearization, that meant the U.S. denuclearizing, too.

SIMON: So he heard them but didn't understand them.

SCHAKE: Yeah, or just chose to ignore them, which again is the president's prerogative that - it typically leads to a very bad national security decisions.

SIMON: Kori Schake speaking with us from London. She's deputy director general of The International Institute for Strategic Studies. Thanks so much for joining us today.

SCHAKE: It was a great pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.