Over the course of American history, cabinet secretaries have come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: famous and obscure, admired and reviled, honest and corrupt. But I don’t think any prior cabinet secretary has been regarded in quite the same light as James Mattis: as a protection against the incompetence and malevolence of his own Administration.
Tens of millions of people in this country — and hundreds of millions of people around the world — were able to sleep just a little bit easier knowing that James Mattis occupied a pivotal place in the chain of command. It’s not that his views were universally endorsed, but rather that he was rightly seen as a responsible steward of American values and power, someone able to curb the worst impulses of a uniquely impulsive President.
Mattis’s resignation letter is a remarkable document, a true public service that manages somehow to be blistering and polite at the same time, and his decision to step down in protest is to be admired. Yet Mattis’s departure leaves the world a considerably more dangerous place.