Departure of 'Trump’s generals' galvanizes Trump resistance

The resignation in protest by Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Top US general: Trump wrong on Syria pullout, ISIS defeat MORE, one of the most wise and courageous acts in modern political memory by one of the most heroic and respected voices for national security of our generation, was a defining moment in what will someday be called the "Trump Years."

The resignation of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, a stellar and respected voice who advocated for the allied national security consensus that has protected democracy since World War II, was a warning sign that great trouble was brewing in the national security councils of the Trump presidency.

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The looming exit of Gen. John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE as White House chief of staff represents one more departure of highly respected military leaders who were once called “Trump’s generals," which was public relations spin rather than an accurate description of fact.

Gen. Mattis and Gen. Kelly had served with bravery and distinction in the United States Marine Corps. Gen. McMaster had served with bravery and distinction in the United States Army. They were always America’s generals and democracy’s generals. They were never the generals of any one person from any political party.

The resistance to Trump includes a diversity of viewpoints on a wide range of issues. One of those macro issues is the need to preserve, protect and defend the political, security and economic alliance of democratic nations that followed the end of World War II and led to victory in the Cold War over Soviet and Russian dictators who sought the destruction of democracy and the creation of a communist world order.

While the departures of McMaster and Kelly are important events, the resignation in protest by Mattis — with a dramatic public call for the restoration of respect for the democratic alliance and revival of resolution to oppose enemies of Western democracy — shook the tectonic plate of national and international politics.

An important and perceptive front-page story in the New York Times emphasized the critical point that Trump’s order to remove troops from Syria and his effort to dramatically reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan has united important players from the left and right. 

As a voice for the patriotic left in national security, I have regularly written columns praising:

The big winners from the Syria withdrawal would be:

  • the mass-murdering dictator of Syria Bashar al-Assad;
  • the Russians, who seek to supplant America and Europe as players in the Middle East;
  • malevolent Iranian forces, which seek to expand their influence in Syria and throughout the region;
  • ISIS terrorists, who seek to regroup for future attacks against America and Europe; and
  • Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who would like to massacre America’s Kurdish allies who have stood bravely with us since the terror attacks on 9/11.

Virtually the entire uniformed and civilian leadership in the Pentagon and throughout our security services vehemently opposed the Syrian withdrawal, which would greatly help an unsavory collection of bad actors.

Their views were disregarded by a president who believes in an "America First" policy of withdrawal that is as wrong and misguided as the "America First" movement that preceded World War II.

The practical resistance to this policy always included Mattis, Kelly, McMaster and a long list of eminently respected military, security and diplomatic professionals of all political persuasions.

The opposition and resistance to the weakening of the democratic alliance will be a leading topic of debate in 2019 as Democrats regain control of the House.

Senate Republicans, who were alarmed by the Mattis resignation, must decide whether they will stand up for the principles Mattis espoused in his resignation. The 2020 presidential campaign is poised to begin with Democrats enjoying a historic opportunity to become the patriot party of national security and defense.

Brent 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.