The media have decided that since Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned on Thursday, followed by Special Envoy Brent McGurk, over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria, the republic is in danger.
On the contrary, it has never been stronger. The principled resignation, a staple of British politics, has been dormant in the U.S. for far too long. Its return heralds a restoration of character and credibility in American democracy.
Until the past few days, the only memorable national resignations of note happened more than twenty years ago, when President Bill Clinton signed a landmark welfare reform bill and two senior officials quit in protest.
Alaska’s Sarah Palin also famously resigned from her state’s oil and gas commission to protest her own Republican Party’s corruption. That established her as a champion of transparency and propelled her to the 2008 presidential ticket.
But there have been few resignations on matters of principle since then. The dominant pattern has been for senior officials to cling to power, even when that has meant abandoning and even opposing everything in they had once believed.
Samantha Power is the archetypal case. An academic authority on genocide, she stayed silent when the Obama administration did nothing to stop genocide in Syria. (She duly earned a promotion to UN ambassador.)