But there’s a fine line between taming the president and enabling him — between tempering the way he governs and implicitly validating it. To stand beside him is to signal assent. To gloss over his motives is to launder them. And that’s what Mattis did during his visit to the troops, who no doubt yearned to hear that their presence made sense but could be told that only if Mattis lied for the president and to all of us.
Or fibbed, at least. Misdirected. Blabbered. He suggested to the troops that they were really there at the behest of Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, to support the Border Patrol. “What does that mean?” he said. “It means that her people do all the work, but we’re standing behind them as a confidence builder, and that sort of thing.”
A confidence builder? That sort of thing? He couldn’t hide the dubiousness of their charge even as he tried to sell it. “A moral and ethical mission” was how he described it to the journalists who accompanied him. If that were so, Pancho Villa wouldn’t have had to ride in.