Tag Archives: Iran hostages

James Mattis enters hall of glory with resignation letter

James Mattis doesn’t seem like someone intent on self-glorification.

The secretary of defense appears to be motivated by love of country, devotion to public service and to living by the code instilled in the Marine Corps from which he retired as a four-star general.

However, his letter of resignation has emerged as an instant iconic message that might stand as a defining epitaph — perhaps the defining epitaph — for the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

The closest recent example I can find that resembles the tone Mattis uses in his resignation letter comes from the late Cyrus Vance, who in 1980 resigned as secretary of state to protest President Carter’s decision to launch the ill-fated mission to rescue the American hostages who were held in Iran.

He calls out the president for his lack of understanding of the importance of our alliances, for his failure to understand the consequences of presidential actions or pronouncements. He scolds the president for his failure to be “resolute” in his relations with our nation’s traditional adversaries, such as Russia and China.

He ended the letter without salutation. Simply signing it “James N. Mattis.”

Read the letter here.

Its message should sadden — and frighten — every American who shares his concerns about the presidency and the man who occupies this exalted office.

Five years ago, the war on terror shifted


Five years ago, my wife and I were watching TV.

Then we noticed one of those crawls scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It announced that President Obama was going to make a special announcement about a national security issue.

It was a Sunday night. The president never goes on national TV to tell us something about national security unless it was something really, really huge.

I turned to my wife and said, “I think they got bin Laden.” Yes, I said that. You can ask her if you wish.

It was right around midnight when Barack Obama strode to a microphone in the White House to say that U.S. Special Forces had carried out a mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

The forces took bin Laden’s body to an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, where sailors aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson “buried him at sea.” I prefer to think they just tossed his corpse into the drink.

Americans cheered. I cheered, too. We all were glad to see the 9/11 mastermind and head of al-Qaeda pay the price for his dastardly history.

Of course, in the days and weeks that followed, Obama’s critics all said much the same thing. The president was taking “too much credit” for issuing the order to take out bin Laden. Big deal, those critics said. He didn’t board the helicopters, fly into Pakistan with no lights at night. All he did was issue the order.

I felt compelled at the time — on May 2, 2011 — to remind those critics that another president once ordered a rescue mission into Iran. It was April 1980 when U.S. Army Special Forces ventured to Desert One and where several of them died in the futile attempt to extract those U.S. hostages from the clutches of the Iranian “students” who captured them at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Did President Carter deserve the “blame” for the mission failure? Sure he did. He ordered it, apparently without agreeing to plans for how to deal with the mechanical failures that resulted in the desert tragedy.

Having said that, President Obama deserved “credit” for ordering the hit job that brought down the world’s most notorious terrorist.

Did the death of one man spell the end of the fight? Not in the least.

It redefined the nature of the fight. It made it possible for the current president to rely on finely tuned intelligence gathering to help our forces bring justice to the monsters who seek to do us harm.


Was the bin Laden raid a lead-pipe cinch to succeed? No on that one, too. The president was concerned that the Navy SEAL team and the Army Special Forces pilots would come up empty when they landed in the compound where they believed bin Laden had been “hiding in plain sight.”

The mission proved to be a success.

The fight against international terrorism goes on. I, though, am willing to give the commander in chief for exhibiting a huge measure of courage in issuing the order that brought about a national cheer.

Believe this, too: Had it gone wrong, President Obama surely would have gotten the blame.