Pentagon officials say Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was not rebuking President Trump when he told troops last week during a visit to the Middle East to “hold the line,” but was referring to the need for civility in the U.S. — something he’s done multiple times in the past.
“The secretary’s remarks echoed the president’s remarks at Ft. Myers. The secretary has spoken about the need for civility in his Face the Nation interview, West Point, and a tribute to John Glenn,” said Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White in an email to Breitbart News.
And Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning told reporters on Monday: “When he referred to holding the line, what I interpreted from that was he was speaking to the stability that U.S. armed forces provides our nation.”
After video of the impromptu remarks were uploaded online over the weekend, journalists and pundits took it to be a critique of Trump.
In one example, Slate.com featured a piece titled: “The Secretary’s Rebuke: James Mattis tells the troops that their president is failing them.” The piece said Mattis’ remarks were “captured on a phone camera, which someone was holding discreetly at waist level.” (The video actually shows that no less than seven soldiers had their cameras out, recording in plain sight).
Slate.com wrote that “only a dolt” would believe that Mattis was not talking about the president and about tensions in general.
Here’s what Mattis said last week, according to the video:
“You’re a great example for our country right now. It’s got some problems, you know it, and I know it. It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly to one another, you know, that Americans owe to one another, we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”
“We got two powers — the power of inspiration — we’ll get the power of inspiration back. You got the power of intimidation, and that’s you, if someone wants to screw with our families, and our country and allies, OK? So, thanks so much for being out here,” he said.
Mattis made similar remarks on February 20 at a press conference in Abu Dhabi — that the U.S. military’s job was to “hold the line,” in response to a question about “disarray at the White House.”
Q: And just to follow-up, General Tony Thomas had said that the disarray at the White House was causing some consternation, particularly among those fighting your wars. Do you agree, and what effect is it having?
SEC. MATTIS: You know, I’ve been talking to a fair number of military commanders around the world. I think General Thomas was probably taken a bit out of context, because we all want to see everything moving smoothly. Welcome to democracy. It’s at times wildly contentious. It’s at times quite sporting.
But the bottom line is, this is the best form of government that we can come up with. So the military’s job is to hold the line, and to hold the line and to hold the line, while our government sorts out the way ahead and our people speak.
So we don’t have any disarray inside the military, and that’s where my responsibility lies.
Here’s Mattis’ comments at the West Point graduation ceremony on May 27:
To a high and remarkable degree, the American people respect you. We in the Department of Defense recognize that there are a lot of passions running about in our country, as there ought to be in a vibrant republic.
But for those privileged to wear the cloth of our nation, to serve in the United States Army, you stand the ramparts, unapologetic, apolitical, defending our experiment in self-governance…and you hold the line.
You hold the line…faithful to duty…confronting our nation’s foes with implacable will, knowing that if there’s a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller.
You hold the line…true to honor…living by a moral code regardless of who is watching, knowing that honor is what we give ourselves for a life of meaning.
You hold the line…loyal to country and defending the constitution, defending our fundamental freedoms, knowing from your challenging years here on the Hudson that loyalty only counts where there are a hundred reasons not to be.
On May 28, Mattis said in a CBS “Face the Nation” interview, in response to a question about his comments to the New Yorker about the lack of political unity in America:
And it takes people, I believe, with a fundamental respect for one another, with a fundamental friendliness toward one another that I worry is starting to slip away in our country. We still have it in the military. It’s a diverse force, it’s a force that can work together under the worst conditions.
And I– I just hope we can find our way back to engaging with one another, arguing strongly with one another, and then going down and having a root beer together or something and– and having a good laugh about it as we work together for the best interests of the next generation of Americans who are going to inherit this country.
Most recently, on June 20 while accepting an award named after Marine and astronaut John Glenn, Mattis said:
It’s going to be your teamwork — it’s working with each other and public service…It means putting aside petty grievances. It means accepting the humanity of the people standing and working next to you, not characterizing them by a certain political stripe or another, rather by their humanity, by them being the mother of a girl trying to get into college, the father of a son with MS. It’s by remembering we’re more connected than we are separated by those issues that have to do with our vision for this country as we all work together to turn it over in as good a shape or better than we received it. That’s our obligation to the next generation.
Last week, Trump himself called for the nation to follow the example of troops — perhaps taking a page from Mattis’ playbook:
The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget, that a wound inflicted upon a single member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all. When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people.
When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other
As we send our bravest to defeat our enemies overseas — and we will always win — let us find the courage to heal our divisions within. Let us make a simple promise to the men and women we ask to fight in our name, that when they return home from battle, they will find a country that has renewed the sacred bonds of love and loyalty that unite us together as one.