There was a recurring theme during the presidency of Donald Trump that went something like this: Trump’s most impetuous and destructive instincts — particularly in the realm of foreign policy — were being nobly restrained by the so-called “Adults in the Room.” Thank heavens! These impressive “adults,” a cadre of seasoned military men serving in Trump’s administration, included James Mattis (Defense Secretary), H.R. McMaster (National Security Advisor), and John Kelly (Chief of Staff). Their presence in the halls of power was supposed to be taken as a profound relief: whether you feared Trump would conspire with Vladimir Putin to collapse “the rules-based international order” — likely because you heard that phrase intoned on some Think Tank webcast — or simply believed that Trump was nuts, you could rest assured that the fate of the Republic would be protected by this crew of Serious Adults watching gamely over Trump’s shoulder. If any crazy ideas got into his head, such as withdrawing US military personnel from overseas deployments or forging a diplomatic accord with Russia, they’d spring boldly into action and put a stop to it.
In August 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s “top national-security advisers,” namely Mattis and McMaster, were “searching for a way to overcome the commander-in-chief’s reluctance to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan.” Ultimately, the two honored “adults” were successful — they finagled Trump into ordering yet another totally useless “surge” of US troops, which accomplished nothing other than additional death, destruction, waste of taxpayer money, and prolongation of a war that was fundamentally hopeless. An outcome that surprised nobody except perhaps Mattis and McMaster themselves. Still, these same “adults” were cheered once more when they maneuvered to undercut Trump’s fantasy of removing troops from Syria, another successful stymieing effort on their part. Profound gratitude was showered on this valiant assemblage of “adults” for having been “in the room” to stop Trump from doing anything reasonable.