For all of you who've been waiting for a tell-all account of James Mattis' 710 days as President Trump's first Pentagon chief, that book has now been written. It is not Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, the book Mattis published in September...Mattis maddeningly refuses in that tome to go into his time serving a president who's still in office. Instead, Holding the Line: Inside Trump's Pentagon With Secretary Mattis essentially picks up the story where the former defense secretary left off ... This is not, it would seem, a book the Defense Department was eager to see published. It took a lawsuit to spring Snodgrass' memoir in September from the Department of Defense, where it had languished for months in a mandatory prepublication review ... an insider's account of how Mattis dealt with the conundrum of how to stay in good graces with Trump while at the same time trying to shore up the very international alliances Trump detested ... The accuracy and veracity of many...quotes are difficult, if not impossible, to check ... The book is also not without errors ... while Mattis may be blowing a gasket over this geyser of a leak, he might also appreciate how the man once in charge of putting words in his mouth has — for the most part — painted a flattering verbal picture of him: a military man turned civilian, holding the line when he could.
Snodgrass, a former Navy fighter pilot who worked in Mattis’s office from the spring of 2017 until the summer of 2018, has stepped forward to fill some of the vacuum created by Mattis’s silence. To be sure, his vantage point was limited...But Snodgrass saw more than enough for his memoir to take its place in the growing annals of government dysfunction ... Snodgrass, who eventually quit after clashing with a top Mattis aide, clearly admires his former boss but does not canonize him.
For all of its unique behind-the-scenes insights, Holding the Line is not, at its core, a Trump-era tell-all ... is actually a story of the unintended consequences of a subordinate’s attempts to maintain loyalty to a superior whose own honor and character is being tested in a way that his career to date, including combat experience, never demanded ... And that’s what makes Holding the Line a must-read (if not a cautionary tale) for any professionals – military or otherwise – who desire access to the biggest levers of power. Like Icarus from Greek mythology, those who try to fly closer to the sun sometimes have their wings melt.
For a glimpse of the story [Mattis] doesn’t tell, there’s Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis by his former chief speechwriter, Guy Snodgrass ... It’s a weirdly schizophrenic book—half swooning hagiography, half bitter critique. The prose is workmanlike at best ... Yet in part because of his frequent cooing about his subject ('one of the most storied living leaders in our armed forces…my kind of leader…extremely modest and self-effacing'”), Snodgrass has produced a devastating portrait, making clear the failure of Mattis’s tenure in the Pentagon, fatal weaknesses in his character, and the plain fact that, valiant as his service was as a marine, he was unsuited for this, his sole civilian job in public life.
This is the memoir America wishes Jim Mattis had written ... Snodgrass cracks the former general’s carefully crafted facade. Full of juicy anecdotes from meetings with the president and key Cabinet members that Snodgrass witnessed, the book reflects Mattis’s growing frustration with an erratic boss who won’t listen to him, and charts his gradual slide into irrelevance ... a nuanced, not always flattering account of Mattis’s time as defense secretary, from the point of view of someone who was in his inner circle.
... a mixed bag ... the manner to which he approaches the work is respectful throughout. Anyone serving in the DoD can glean valuable insight and catch a rare glimpse behind the curtain as to what it means to serve on a senior staff at the heart of the U.S. Government ... What I struggled with was [Snodgrass's] initial commitment to join OSD as I couldn’t help but imagine this billet would be extremely useful for the development and exposure of someone looking to serve longer than the 20 year mark, or at least had the aspirations to try. I also struggled to understand the warning he received early in the book that working for Secretary Mattis would be at a breakneck pace, and still went along willingly ... Snodgrass does provide gems of wisdom with his work, and for those interested in the behind the scenes meetings with members of the President’s staff, there’s plenty to digest. One cannot overlook his career, talent, and hard work put towards the success of the Secretary, both in the office and on the road, countlessly traveling the globe working through time zones and jet lag ... This book was a very quick read, easy to digest, and enjoyable. I understand the embodiment of both the good and the bad as any good chronicler successfully captures ... an honest reflection about his time as a speechwriter and he does his best to accurately portray the people, events, and encounters that occurred around him creating one of the most developmental experiences of his career. If anyone has read the NDS, one can’t argue–the guy has talent, and a book–that’s more than I can say I’ve done.