“See Something . . . Say Something.” That has been America’s mantra since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country 18 years ago. Those four words are being repeated once again due to the rash of gun violence.
So, I am deeply disappointed by the silence of departing Trump administration officials — most recently, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Secretary Mattis, who resigned as defense secretary last December due to a policy disagreement with the president regarding the withdrawl of U.S. troops from Syria, has been on a promotional tour for his memoir, “Call Sign Chaos.”
Admittedly, it took me some time to adjust to the fact that former high-ranking military leaders would willingly serve in the administration of a president who had absolutely no government experience, whose business ethics were questionable, at best, and whose claim to fame was starring in a reality television show in which he fired people. Over time, however, I was glad that military veterans such as Mattis and John Kelly, the president’s second chief of staff, both retired Marine generals with decades of experience, were in the president’s cabinet to advise and counsel him.
But by early 2019, both men were gone. Each had waged his last battle with the know-it-all president.
Kelly was at least candid about his 18 months as the president’s chief of staff after being elevated from his original post as Homeland Security secretary. In a March 2019 story in Vanity Fair, Kelly said being the president’s right hand was “the least enjoyable job” he had ever held, and he called the president’s insistence on building a wall along the country’s southern border a “waste of money.”
Mattis, however, sang a different tune.
I watched his rather lengthy interviews with PBS NewsHour host Judy Woodruff and with Christiane Amanpour, host of Amanpour and Company, also on PBS. Mattis reiterated that his decision to resign as defense secretary was due to his disagreement over the withdrawl of all U.S. troops from Syria.
But Mattis skirted questions about Trump’s decision-making and the erosion of constitutional rights. In her Sept. 3 interview, Amanpour asked Mattis outright: “At what point do you owe it to the people of the United States of America to talk the truth about what’s happening, let’s say, in the battlefield, what’s happening in decision making as far as you know it?
Mattis replied that it is a “long-standing tradition, 200 years of tradition, more than 200, that military people do not pass political assessments on.
“Look at what happened where the U.S. Congress, House and Senate, Republican and Democrats, 87 percent vote for the defense budget and it was a record-breaking budget that President Trump proposed to rebuild the military. That shows why we need to keep the defense of our country apolitical.”
The very next day, the president announced that he planned to divert $3.6 billion in Department of Defense funds to pay for his border wall — a wall that Congress had neither authorized nor funded. The $3.6 billion had already been appropriated for high priority military projects — $32 million was to be spent on military projects in Hawai‘i that U.S. Rep. Ed Case described as “critical for military readiness and security.”
Yes, by then, Mattis was no longer the nation’s defense secretary. But I think he still had a responsibility to speak up against the diversion of funds that had been budgeted for projects that had been deemed necessary by the department he led for two years — especially when they are being diverted to fulfill Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build the wall that he said Mexico would pay for.
Remember Mattis’ statement to Amanpour: “That shows why we need to keep the defense of our country apolitical.”
The diversion of these funds could affect the lives and safety of the servicemembers and military families with whom Gen. Mattis spent most of his adult life leading and serving in the defense of our country. How can he remain silent? How can those who know better, who are truly committed to the principles of democracy, hold their tongues while policies designed to keep Americans safe, healthy and free are being shredded almost daily by the president?
And so I return to those four words: “See Something . . . Say Something.”