Retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, has a bearskin rug in his living room. The bear isn’t dead. He’s just afraid to move.
That’s a joke. But Mr. Trump’s nominees for key national security posts indicate a big change is coming in how people around the world regard the United States of America.
“Among global elites, Donald J. Trump’s recent phone call with Taiwan’s president has induced fear on a scale seldom matched since Ronald Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech,” wrote historian Mark Moyar in The New York Times.
“The United States must care more about whether it commands international respect than whether it is loved by international elites,” Mr. Moyar said.
It is better for the prince to be feared than loved, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote half a millennium ago.
President Barack Obama sought to be loved, with catastrophic results. His passivity in the face of provocations emboldened enemies, unnerved allies, led to bloody chaos in much of the Muslim world and a rapidly rising threat from Islamic terror at home.
Large-scale attacks were “nice, but not necessary,” the planner of the 9/11 attacks told his interrogator. Low-tech attacks could bring down America the same way “enough disease-infected fleas could bring down an elephant.”
Jihadi-minded brothers would move to the United States and “wrap themselves in America’s rights and laws” until they were strong enough to rise up and attack,” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told James Mitchell, the former Air Force psychologist who helped develop interrogation techniques for the CIA. Mr. Mitchell’s new book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” details his work.
“We do not need to defeat you militarily,” KSM told Mr. Mitchell. “We only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting. Eventually, America will expose her neck for us to slaughter.” KSM is confident Islamists will win because he expects America to continue Mr. Obama’s feckless policies. But once before, America’s response to terror surprised and frightened him.
Al-Qaida expected the United States to treat 9/11 as a law enforcement matter, as President Bill Clinton had al-Qaida’s attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the USS Cole.
“How was I supposed to know that cowboy George Bush would announce he wanted us ‘dead or alive’ and then invade Afghanistan to hunt us down?” KSM told Mr. Mitchell. The “ferocity and swiftness” of President Bush’s response stunned al-Qaida, and forced KSM to cancel a second wave of attacks he’d planned.
The nominations of Gen. Mattis, of retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly for Homeland Security and of Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director indicate Mr. Trump plans to treat the War on Terror as a war — and intends to win it.
Mr. Bush’s fatal mistake wasn’t invading Afghanistan or Iraq. Staying to “nation-build” converted swift military victories into bloody long-term defeats. Nation-building is a conceit of civilians unclear about what can and cannot be accomplished with military force, who grossly overestimate the enthusiasm for democracy of other peoples.
Team Trump’s foreign policy figures to be Jacksonian. To oversimplify, Jacksonians think we shouldn’t meddle in the affairs of other nations — unless they mess with us, in which case we should stomp them, then go home. Even allies “must know that the world’s most powerful nation is prepared to practice tough love if they take actions inconsistent with the strength of the United States or the stability of the international system,” Mr. Moyar said.
The president-elect’s handling of China is heartening. By conversing with the democratically elected president of Taiwan, Mr. Trump fired a shot across the bow of the Politburo. Then he chose a personal friend of Chinese leader Xi Jinping as U.S. ambassador, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. Don’t take me for granted, but we can do business, The Donald signaled.
Not bad for a guy who isn’t supposed to know jack about foreign policy. If only we could be as confident of his handling of Russia!
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com, 412-263-1476).