Memo To: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point and served as a cavalry officer. Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies.
I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last “few good men” who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.
The last time our country faced such a cancer on the presidency, the Republican Party’s leadership stood up and put country before party to get to the truth. But today’s GOP is a pale imitation of that party. With a few exceptions, it has declared moral bankruptcy and abdicated its responsibility to draw any red lines for President Donald Trump.
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To begin, I ask those of you who honored our country as military officers how you would have reacted if your commanding officer had charged his predecessor with a high crime that violated his constitutional oath – and then a few weeks later this charge was exposed as false by the top military judge advocate?
And Tillerson, how would your former corporate board have reacted if a top executive at Exxon Mobil had accused a predecessor of a major act of malfeasance and the FBI then told the board the claims were false?
Would you military men have simply said, “Sorry, I just do artillery” or “I’m just staying in my lane”? And Tillerson, would you only have said, “I just do diplomacy”?
Knowing some of you, I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that you would have taken so seriously your oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, or abide by the highest corporate standards, that you’d have felt impelled to say or do something.
Well, your boss has engaged in such a smear against his predecessor. But Trump’s party, his daughter, his sons, his son-in-law, his chief strategist, his spokespeople all want us to just move on, to give him a pass, and his attorney general is already so tainted that he’s had to recuse himself.
And that is why I’m coming to you few good men.
I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act – to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing and apologizes to President Barack Obama, and unless he releases his tax returns to eliminate any questions regarding what we now know is already an 8-month-old FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign to hack our last election.
Surely none of you believes it’s OK for a president to smear his predecessor and then stand by the charge even when it is exposed as a lie.
I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.
I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”
There is a profound sense of loss in the world today that the optimistic, inclusive, generous, rule-of-law America that so many foreigners grew up admiring is disappearing. A poll by Germany’s ARD media group found that the percentage of Germans who think the U.S. is a “trustworthy ally” dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent last month.
Trump inherited a “daunting inbox” in foreign policy, but unfortunately “he is making it much worse,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a valuable new book, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” Trump’s embrace of “protectionism and hostility to immigrants – when the real culprit is new technologies that are eliminating existing jobs and an educational system that is not preparing Americans for new ones – and his rhetoric and policies are increasing doubts overseas about American dependability.” Without an urgent course correction, added Haass, we could end up “not with America first, but with America alone.”
Preventing that is the job of you five good men. I’m certain that none of you would let your children behave with the kind of dishonesty Trump showed in his tweets about Obama – and then just walk away. If you did that you’d consider yourself a failure as a parent. The same is now at stake for you as public servants.
If you say and do nothing when the nation’s leader smears his predecessor – and then maintains his fantasy as fact – not only will he never have the credibility to call on any other country to uphold the highest standards for rule of law, democracy and human rights, but neither will all of you. We will become a lesser country and the world a more dangerous place.
Thomas L. Friedman writes for The New York Times.