While the White House is dealing with the media aftermath of President Trump’s National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, being forced to step down amid allegations of inappropriate contact with Russian officials, James Mattis is heading to Brussels to meet with NATO leaders and reassure them of the United States’ commitment to the organization, and to checking Russian aggression along the border with Europe.

Mattis seemed decidedly unconcerned about Flynn’s resignation, addressing it only in the question and answer portion of his brief meeting with the press prior to departing for Europe.  Lita Baldor of the Associated Press addressed concerns about how the recent revelation of Flynn’s involvement with Russia during the election process would affect American relationships with NATO nations – an organization that was founded with countering Russian aggression as a tent pole policy from its very onset.  Mattis, however, dismissed concerns about how he’d assuage fears posed by world leaders, effectively saying that he’s going to go do his job, and the manner in which he’ll do it hasn’t changed since Flynn left the administration.

“Here’s the bottom line, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m brought in to be the secretary of defense.  I give the president advice on the use of military force.”  Mattis said.

“I maintain good relations, strong relations — some of you were out with me in the Pacific — and so military-to-military relations with other ministries of defense around the world.  And frankly, this has no impact.  Obviously, I haven’t changed what I’m heading there for.  It doesn’t change my message at all.  And who’s on the president’s staff is who I will work with.”

Mattis went on to refer to NATO as the most successful military alliance “in history,” before reminding the media, and the American people, that “the first time it went to war was when America was attacked, so if anyone had any questions about the value, you have to look at that.”

His speech emphasized the need for NATO to adapt along with the changing face of warfare, something NATO has been doing for the past twenty years, according to the Defense Secretary.  His tenure as the Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation while assigned to NATO as a Marine General speaks to the level of his understanding of NATO’s shifts in policy and tactics, as that role is responsible for enacting just such changes.

Despite ongoing concerns about how friendly the White House staff may be toward the Russians, Mattis was clear on his stance.

“2014 was a watershed year.  It was a year when many of our hopes for some kind of partnership with Russia were finally shown to be unavailing.  So what we have to do — we’ve got to adapt and make certain that the transatlantic bond remains strong.  And I think in going there, what we’re doing is also proving that once again, we can react to those changing circumstances.”

His final statements pertained to other NATO nations failing to live up to their economic obligations to the alliance, a point of tension between President Trump’s camp and the organization itself.  Every nation-state in NATO is required to devote two percent of their gross domestic product to defense spending, though only a handful actually do.  It is the assertion of President Trump that many of these nations don’t devote the mandated funds to defense because they rely on America’s military might instead.

“It’s a fair question, it’s an issue that’s got to be addressed.  A number of European nations already meet the 2.0 [percent].  A number of others are clearly on a trajectory to get there and we have to have an open conversation among friends and allies about where we’re going and turn to that level of commitment.”  Mattis said.

“And so it’s, you know, full speed ahead and listen, learn, help and lead.  That’s kind of the method I take — listen first, learn what other people face, help them wherever I can because they’ve been allies.  They stood by us after New York was attacked and so many decades before that and since.  And many of them have lost boys, lads, women in fighting the enemy that attacked America.”  Mattis said of our allies in Europe.

“And then lead.  You know, America’s got a leadership role.”


Image courtesy of NBC News