Newly confirmed Defense Secretary James Mattis doesn’t take his cues from anyone else, including candidate-turned-president Donald Trump.
Breaking with Trump’s comments during the campaign, Mattis emphasized “the United States’ unshakeable commitment to NATO,” during his first three official calls on Monday, to the Pentagon’s official readout states.
Mattis…made his first official calls to Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and to his counterparts from two key NATO allies, UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and Canadian Minister of Defense Harjit Sajjan.
As a candidate, Trump gave European NATO members an ultimatum to pay their fair share “or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.” Though a number of analysts agree that NATO needs reform, according to The Hill, most people found Trump’s rhetoric here — surprise! — dangerous.
Recently Trump renewed his criticism, and worried other NATO members when he didn’t back away from calling NATO obsolete, while at the same time appearing less wary about making “good deals” with Russia.
White House Press Secretary took some time off from alternative facts to try to bridge the gap between Trump’s comments and Mattis’ phone calls. Again, from CNN:
“The President is very clear that as it’s structured now, in terms of the output of NATO, he doesn’t feel as though it’s doing what its mission was set up to do or that it’s being particularly effective,” Spicer said.
“I think that Secretary Mattis and others have some ideas about how to reform and make organizations like NATO more effective and benefit the amount of money that the United States is putting into whether it’s NATO or the UN or other organizations like that,” he added. “But I think (Trump) is not pleased in terms of what he sees in terms of the US contribution and the output it’s getting.”
How President Trump and the Secretary of Defense work together on the NATO question will be interesting to see. Few question Mattis’ status as one of Trump’s best cabinet picks and it’s reassuring that someone of his prudence will be a key player in any reforms.