General Mattis Makes His Power Play

02/16/2017 01:08 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2017
EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

As the wheels come off of the Trump administration, and we careen towards a total meltdown of government, one of the political insiders’ favorite pastimes is in full effect: “Who is ascendant?” Sometimes, folks think it’s Kellyanne Conway. Sometimes people swear it’s Mike Pence.

Usually, this kind of conjecture is based on rumors and reading of tea leaves.

Actual evidence, however, points to someone outside the West Wing playing a long-term game to wrest power away from all of them, and rein in this administration as best he can. That person is Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Just yesterday, General Mattis, speaking at a NATO conference of defense ministers declared that, despite Donald Trump’s declarations of wanting to work with Russia, the U.S. military is not prepared to do so.

Then, to underscore the point of how skeptical he remains of Putin, Mattis added that there was “very little doubt that they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies.”

Finally, to underline it all, Mattis maintained that Russia will have to be the one to “prove itself” worthy of entering into a “partnership of sorts” with NATO.

Combined, his statements are very much at odds with the Steve Bannon/Mike Flynn/Stephen Miller wing of the administration, which seems much friendlier to a Putin partnership, and are much more hostile to NATO.

Speaking of Mike Flynn, word around Washington is that Mattis is pushing for his former aide, Admiral Robert Harward, to take the job of National Security Adviser, that Flynn just left in shame.

Combined with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who was once Mattis’ Assistant Division Commander, Mattis would now have at least two allies sitting at the National Security Council. That number may even be increased, as word has spread that Hayward would be looking to chop heads off left and right, and remake the council, should he accept the position.

You can see where this is going.

Slowly, but surely and methodically, General Mattis is setting the table to supplant “President” Steve Bannon and his gang, and become the de facto man in control at the White House.

Would this be a good development, though? It’s tough to say.

From a standpoint of not allowing us to steadily move towards the apocalyptic war with Iran or China that Steve Bannon apparently craves, it would be a very good thing.

From the standpoint of the actual president being a stooge who just does what he’s told to do by whoever best plays the Game of Thrones around him, it’s a nightmare, because there’s no guarantee that Mattis can hold on to power for that long. What comes after him might be Bannon, again, or someone much worse.

In the military, General Mattis’ call sign was “Chaos.” Ironic, and scary, that he now has to figure out how to navigate it, in the center of western power.

Scarier still that all of our lives are hanging in the balance.

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