As you probably know if you’re reading a news blog right now instead of enjoying a summer Friday afternoon, Donald Trump followed up a sensationally deferential summit and press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week by complaining in a Fox News interview that NATO commitments require the United States to defend allegedly inessential countries like Montenegro. (NATO, of course, has historically existed as a deterrent to potential aggression by the country that’s now Russia.) On Thursday, director of national intelligence Dan Coats more or less said that he didn’t support any of Trump’s recent decisions regarding Putin; today, Secretary of Defense James Mattis took his turn doing the implicit disavowing in a statement about new military aid to Ukraine:
Russia should suffer consequences for its aggressive, destabilizing behavior and its illegal occupation of Ukraine. … The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is do we wish to strengthen our partners in key regions or leave them with no other options than to turn to Russia, thereby undermining a once in a generation opportunity to more closely align nations with the U.S. vision for global security and stability.
Nominally, Mattis’ statement was addressing a relatively arcane point of contention with Congress involving waivers of Russia-related sanctions for countries that the U.S. sees as allies or potential allies. Given Mattis’ well-documented history of exasperation with his boss’s inability to understand why the U.S. needs allies in the first place, though, it’s probably safe to read between the lines.