Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Mattis resigns as US defense secretary

TROUBLE AHEAD:Foreign policy experts and lawmakers lamented the ex-general’s decision, with Senator Marco Rubio saying the US was headed for ‘grave policy errors’

AP, WASHINGTON

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Feb. 4 last year.

Photo: Bloomberg

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Thursday resigned after clashing with US President Donald Trump over the abrupt withdrawal of US troops from Syria and after two years of deep disagreements over the US’ role in the world.

Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in Trump’s administration, is to leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years struggling to soften and moderate the president’s hardline and sometimes sharply changing policies.

Mattis told Trump in a letter that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

Mattis went to the White House with his resignation letter in hand to meet with the president and spoke to Trump for about 45 minutes, said a senior US official familiar with the incident, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

There was no confrontation between the two men and there was no one issue that caused the resignation, the official said, but added that Syria likely was the last straw for Mattis.

His departure was immediately lamented by foreign policy hands and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who viewed the retired US Marine Corps general as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had not held political office or served in the military.

Even Trump allies expressed fear over Mattis’ decision to quit, believing him to be an important moderating force on the president.

“Just read Gen. Mattis resignation letter,” US Senator Marco Rubio said on Twitter. “It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed toward a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”

Mattis did not mention the dispute over Syria in his letter or proposed deep cuts to US forces in Afghanistan, another significant policy dispute.

He said that his “core belief” that US strength is “inextricably linked” with the nation’s alliances with other countries, a position seemingly at odds with the Trump’s “America first” policy.

China and Russia want to spread their “authoritarian model” and promote their interests at the expense of the US and its allies, he added.

“That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense,” Mattis wrote.

Mattis emphasized the importance of standing up for US allies — an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on that issue and others.

“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

Last year, Republican Senator Bob Corker — a frequent Trump critic — said that Mattis, along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and then-US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, were helping “separate our country from chaos.”

Tillerson was fired early this year. Kelly is to leave the White House in the coming days.

“This is scary,” US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner said on Twitter. “Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”

“Jim Mattis did a superb job as secretary of defense, but he cannot be expected to stand behind a president who disrespects our allies and ingratiates himself to our adversaries,” said former US secretary of defense William Cohen, who served under former US president Bill Clinton and knows Mattis well.

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