For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.
“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.
“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.
In his first year in the Pentagon, Mattis has been one of the least visible and most consequential members of Trump’s foreign policy team. In Situation Room meetings, he has established himself as a commanding voice, reining in discussions before they devolve into chaos. State Department ambassadors say they have spent more face-to-face time with him than they have their own boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
A foreign policy establishment that views Trump as erratic and unreliable uniformly praises Mattis.
The current opinion from White House sources is that Mattis in the one Trump cabinet member who is NOT afraid of him.
The problem of course is that Trump sees himself as the master of all he surveys.
How long he is willing to accept the word "no" from Mattis remains to be seen.
He may eventually start to undermine and attack Mattis just like he has undermined and attacked Jeff Sessions, the FBI, and even his own staff members.
When that happens who draws the line in the sand that keeps him from attacking any country that he believes does not pay him the respect he feels he deserves?