John McCain used the nomination hearings for retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis to challenge Trump’s friendliness with Russia, saying, “Putin wants to be our enemy.” Mattis, Trump’s choice for defense secretary, basically agreed, arguing that Moscow’s actions were “raising grave concerns on several fronts.” Mattis further claimed that Putin’s Russia was trying to break up NATO and disrupt the “world order,” which is facing its “biggest attack since War War Two.”
The problem with these hawkish words is that they are in direct conflict with the positions of the man Mattis will work for. They also go against the more pro-Russian sentiments voiced by the nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
The incoming administration is sending mixed messages to Russia, which could create misunderstandings that could easily spin out of control. What if Putin thinks Trump is setting a dovish policy, but then finds that Mattis’s pro-NATO policy actual sets the agenda? Wars have been started over lesser confusions.