We sure he didn’t misspell “resigning in protest” here?
Congratulations to soon-to-be Defense Secretary Rand Paul!
Lotttttta bad vibes in the timing of this announcement. Mattis had been a skeptic of withdrawing from Syria as recently as September, saying at the time that troops can’t be pulled from the field the moment ISIS is officially defeated. Leave a power vacuum and the dregs will reconstitute and fill it. Trump disagreed. Mattis also said a few weeks ago of the endless war in Afghanistan that “If we leave, with 20-odd of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world centered in that region, we know what will happen… Our intelligence is very specific. We will be under attack.” Well, guess what:
Officials throughout the Trump administration are bracing themselves for the President to make an announcement about the US presence in Afghanistan, similar to his declaration Wednesday that the US will withdraw the military from Syria, informed administration sources tell CNN.
The sources cautioned that President has not yet made a final decision, but officials are concerned and convinced that he might do so, and soon.
Withdrawing from Afghanistan and Syria, the latter in “victory” and the former in de facto defeat, are both defensible decisions (although Afghanistan more so than Syria). Is that the extent of Trump’s plan, though, or is this part of a broad isolationist turn that’s going to lead him to withdraw from overseas bases too like South Korea and Germany? Maybe Mattis sees the writing on the wall and doesn’t want to be remembered as the SecDef who oversaw the Grand Retreat.
Or maybe he and Trump are just tired of dealing with each other. Here’s WaPo this morning:
The retired four-star Marine Corps general Trump likes to call by his detested nickname, “Mad Dog,” is now at a low point in his influence with Trump [after the Syria decision] and potentially also a short-timer, current and former U.S. officials said.
Mattis is also frustrated that Trump vetoed his choice to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking miliary officer. Trump announced this month that he has chosen Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, to replace the current chairman, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is due to step down next fall. Mattis had recommended the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, people familiar with the discussions said.
Trump also sidestepped Mattis’s concern about deploying U.S. forces to the U.S.-Mexico border this fall with only a vague mandate for border security. Mattis has told Pentagon leaders that he is following orders and they must do the same, U.S. officials said.
Mattis is also allegedly “among the strongest skeptics about the pledge of denuclearization” from North Korea within the administration. Coincidentally, the AP reported this morning that the NorKs now say they’ll never denuclearize until the U.S. removes its own threats from the region, which is being interpreted to mean the American troop presence in South Korea. Trump has toyed with that idea publicly before; Kim knows which buttons to push. Maybe Mattis has an inkling that that’s going to be the next step in the sucker’s game being played by North Korea and wants no part of it.
I wonder how last night’s presidential video on the Syria withdrawal sat with him too:
Yeah, that would have been worth a good five-day freakout in right-wing media had Obama done it. Ah well.
Says Axios of Mattis, “[He], like the other Trump administration generals who are all now either gone or on their way out, was a reassuring presence for allies trying to make sense of Trump’s erratic foreign policy, and considered a brake on some of the president’s impulses.” Right, one favorite media narrative at the start of Trump’s administration was that America could rest somewhat easy knowing that a team of “adults in the room” — Mattis, Kelly, Tillerson, H.R. McMaster — was around to keep Trump from steering off the foreign-policy road. Tillerson and McMaster are now long gone, Kelly’s in his final days as chief of staff, and Mattis is on the way out, to be replaced by God knows whom. We’re going full MAGA, just as Democrats are taking power in the House. What a war next year is going to be.
Gotta credit Trump with one thing, though: Whether you agree or disagree with his decisions on Syria and Afghanistan, it’s mighty bold (or short-sighted) for him to step up and volunteer to accept the blame if/when a terror group based in one of those countries launches a successful attack on the U.S. I’m convinced that’s 80 percent of the reason we stayed in Afghanistan and at least 50 percent of the reason we were hanging around Syria. If any new planes are flown into skyscrapers, it’s far easier for the president to escape blame for the security failure if American troops are attacking the problem at the source than if they’ve gone home and left jihadis to plot. No doubt Lindsey Graham is on the phone with Trump trying to explain that right now.
Update: This seems plausible.
Projected Trump Cabinet, March 2019 pic.twitter.com/bz0esVeKIL
— Jason O. Gilbert (@gilbertjasono) December 20, 2018
Update: This does kinda sound like a resignation in protest:
Update: Yeah, Mattis didn’t leave with high regard for the president.
Notice the lack of a closing: there is no thank you to the president for the opportunity to serve in the administration, just gratitude to be able to serve the men and women of the Armed Forces, and nothing like “sincerely” or “respectfully.” https://t.co/ohyqVaUDEO
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) December 20, 2018
Update: Mattis is the first Trump cabinet member (I think) to resign in protest over a policy decision.
Officials said Mr. Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon in a last attempt to convince Mr. Trump to keep American troops in Syria. He was rebuffed, and told the president that he was resigning as a result.
Hours later, the Pentagon released Mr. Mattis’ resignation letter, in which he implicitly criticized his commander in chief. Mr. Mattis said in the letter that he believes that the president deserves a defense secretary who is more in tune with his worldview.