President Trump's Defense Secretary General Mattis seemed to go against two of the president's repeated assertions about Russia when he spoke to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels and was asked to comment on the suggestion that the United States might partner our erstwhile adversary.
There is very little doubt they have either interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in democracies.
Trump has said repeatedly that he would rather have Russia deal with ISIS than send U.S. combat troops, but Mattis seemed to oppose that option, saying that "Russia is going to have to prove itself first" before any military partnership could be sought.
"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level. But our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground," Mattis explained.
This caused a frigid exchange between Mattis and Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu, after the General said that NATO needed to "negotiate from a position of strength" with Russia.
Shoigu groused at the statement, saying, "if the U.S. thinks it can negotiate from a position of strength, then talks are hopeless."
When asked to respond, Mattis gruffly retorted, "I have no need to respond to the Russian statement at all. NATO has always stood for military strength and protection of the democracies and the freedoms we intend to pass on to our children."
This is especially surprising considering Trump's continued insistence that Russia did not interfere with the election, and that he would be seeking a friendship with the country to further U.S. interests. Mattis appears to be much more suspicious and cautious about the intentions of our former global adversary.
In the background of all these interactions is the drama unfolding over leaks exposing communications between Trump's campaign and Russian officials before the election. Trump's accusations and attacks against U.S. intelligence agencies have only encouraged administration critics who are demanding investigations into the alleged election tampering.