WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis will depart in February, telling President Trump that he was resigning because their views were not “aligned.”
Mattis reportedly opposed Trump’s plans to pull troops out of Syria.
Trump said in a late Thursday afternoon tweet, “General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years. During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!”
But in his resignation letter, Mattis said that he was departing because of disagreements with the president.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote.
He said that his end date would be on Feb. 28.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Mattis wrote. “We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”
Trump’s announcement that U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn, while declaring that ISIS has been defeated, drew criticism from lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill, and reportedly came as a surprise to White House staff. CNN reported that Trump also is considering withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Mattis also suggested that he disagreed with Trump on how the president has dealt with Russia and China. Mattis wrote that “I believe that we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.”
Mattis’ resignation is the latest post-midterm departure among the top ranks of Trump’s administration. Last week was the news that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Chief of Staff John Kelly were out.
Mattis’ departure underscores the turbulence in Trump’s national security and foreign policy teams. National Security Adviser John Bolton is the third person in that post, following Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo succeeded Rex Tillerson, who was fired in March.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter, “This is scary. Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration. As we’ve seen with the President’s haphazard approach to Syria, our national defense is too important to be subjected to the President’s erratic whims.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote, “Just read Gen. Mattis resignation letter. It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation,damage our alliances & empower our adversaries. I hope we who have supported this administrations initiatives over the last two years can persuade the President to choose a different direction. But we must also fulfill our constitutional duty to conduct oversight over the policies of the executive branch.”
The departure of Mattis also comes just hours after Trump announced that he would not sign a spending bill to keep the government fully funded beyond Friday unless it includes money to build a wall along the southern border. Trump’s announcement increases the chances of a partial government shutdown.
Mattis’ letter of resignation is here.