Budowsky: The James Mattis moment

Budowsky: The James Mattis moment
© Getty Images

With Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE summarily fired in a tweet, national economic advisor Gary Cohn having resigned in protest and national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster apparently destined to leave his post sometime soon, the eyes of a grateful nation now turn to retired general and current Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisFormer Defense Secretary Mattis testifies in Theranos CEO trial 20 years after 9/11, we've logged successes but the fight continues Defense & National Security — The mental scars of Afghanistan MORE.

Rarely in post-war history have the man, the moment and the mission come together as they do today, in the person of Jim Mattis, in the post of Secretary of Defense, at a time when the American presidency is characterized by chaos, and freedom and democracy are under attack from enemies and adversaries who wish us ill.

Today there is danger for America when the leader of China moves to make himself a dictator for life, the leader of Russia similarly acts like a dictator for life while he masterminds attacks against America, and the American president appears to praise them both as strong leaders, while far-right forces make a bid for power in Europe and the United States is no longer widely viewed as the leader of the free world. 


It is not a good moment for the president to turn his government into a Cabinet of chaos, with revolving-door firings and resignations, with a secretary of State and national security adviser repeatedly humiliated by the president, with a presidential son-in-law who cannot obtain a high security clearance acting as a surrogate secretary of State, and with liberal democracy throughout the democratic alliance under fierce attack.

One guiding principle for many columns I have written throughout the last two years is that the American government has fallen far behind where it should be to counter the Russian attack against democracy in America and Europe. 

President Obama did not respond to this threat with nearly the focus and strength that the threat to our country demanded. President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE has never fully acknowledged that this threat even exists and reasonable people worry that, for whatever reason, he may not even want to expose and defeat the attack waged against us.

It is a sorry spectacle to see leaders of the American intelligence and law enforcement community virtually plead, in testimony before Congress, for presidential leadership while some of Trump’s allies in Congress, including Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, attack the FBI and try to debunk the work of those entrusted with protecting our security.

Amazingly, incredibly and inexcusably, there is no individual designated to lead a whole-of-government response to the Russian attack against us.

Today I propose Secretary of Defense Mattis be designated as the leader of the American response to the Russian attack, possibly working through the Defense Policy Board to include representatives of all agencies sharing responsibility for planning and executing the American response to the Russian attack. 

Mattis possesses the fierce patriotism, leadership and management skills, military and diplomatic expertise and universal credibility that would make him the ideal leader of the American whole-of-government response to the Russian attack.

Americans and Europeans must fully understand that we are under attack in a new form of warfare pioneered by Russian general Valery Gerasimov, a close adviser to Vladimir Putin. This war against democracy seeks to win without firing a shot, using technology and propaganda, among other means, to divide the people of democracies against each other, divide democratic nations against each other, destroy the credibility of democratic institutions, undermine democratic alliances and corrupt democratic elections.

The whole-of-government Russian attack should be met with a whole-of-government American response that does not exist today, but can under the leadership of Mattis, who is brilliantly suited to spearhead, working with colleagues, the democratic response to Gen. Gerasimov and Vladimir Putin.

American military and diplomatic strategy should return to the core concept of democratic alliances, democratic unity, democratic initiative, democratic resolve and democratic self-confidence to win the war waged against democracy, without firing a shot, with leaders such as Secretary Mattis. 

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.