Mattis was right to step back

Donald Trump administration : Why US Secretary of Defense throws Mattis down

The US capital had almost said goodbye to the Christmas break when the Twitter message flashed on the phones on Thursday evening. The streets were so much quieter than usual, and many Washington residents were already on their way to their families or on vacation. And then this: "General Jim Mattis will leave office at the end of February (...) after serving my administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years." It was exactly the news that America's allies feared most - including if it had been looming for a while.

Why does Mattis stop?

A change at the top of the Pentagon had been speculated for some time. James Mattis, who was considered to be "the last adult" in the Trump administration, is said to have repeatedly condescended internally about the president, with whom he disagreed on many issues. The reporter Bob Woodward wrote in his book “Fear” that Mattis had certified Trump “the receptivity of a fifth grader”. The real question is why the retired and award-winning four-star general held out for so long in the first place.

The trigger for his resignation letter was the announcement of the president on Wednesday that the US troops would be withdrawn from Syria - against the advice of Mattis and basically almost all other experts. Until recently, the Pentagon chief is said to have tried to dissuade Trump from this momentous decision, but in vain. How little the president listened to his advisers became apparent shortly afterwards when reports circulated that he was also planning to significantly reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan. According to information from the "Wall Street Journal", more than 7,000 of the total of 14,000 US soldiers could be retrieved.

How does the minister justify his resignation?

The 68-year-old had ruled out this step for a long time; In the end, he could no longer hold out this line, the differences became too great. The letter to Trump, which was circulated just a few minutes after his tweet, is a tough one. "You have the right to a defense secretary whose views are more in line with yours," wrote Mattis. "I think it is therefore the right thing for me to step down from my position."

Once again the experienced minister reminds of the importance of international alliances, especially NATO and the alliance against the terrorist militia IS. The USA must also be resolute in its attitude towards those countries whose interests run counter to its own - countries like China or Russia that wanted to "shape the world according to their authoritarian model". Mattis warned the president against being naive on this issue: one should “have no illusions about malicious actors and strategic rivals”.

What are the dangers of Mattis ’resignation?

The New York Times put it in a nutshell on Friday morning: “Who will protect America now?” Who will protect America now? Mattis ended the time of the generals in the Trump administration, because of their large number, initially a militarization of US politics was feared. Michael Flynn and Herbert Raymond McMaster had already retired, and Chief of Staff John Kelly will be leaving at the turn of the year. Ultimately, however, the ex-military were the foreign and security experts in the government.

They were expected to contain the impulsive and politically inexperienced president. There is great concern that the chaos in the White House is now rampant - and that the country is becoming completely unpredictable in terms of foreign policy. The fact that Trump is said to have acted not only against the advice of Mattis, but also that of Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo and Security Advisor John Bolton in his Syria decision, does not reduce concerns. Under Trump, the United States is saying goodbye to its role in global politics and leaving it to other great powers such as Russia or China.

How are US politicians reacting?

Senate intelligence committee vice chief Mark Warner wrote on Twitter that Mattis ’departure was scary. "Minister Mattis has been an island of stability amid the chaos of the Trump administration," said the Democrat. But supporters in Trump's own party are also reacting with increasing concern. The top Republican Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate, expressed himself unusually clearly: He was "particularly shocked" that Mattis was leaving because of differences with the president. The US had to keep a clear understanding of who was an international friend and who was an enemy. McConnell urged Trump to appoint a successor who shared these basic Mattis principles. And Republican Senator Marco Rubio interpreted Mattis ’letter as evidence that the US was on a dangerous course in terms of foreign policy.

After Mattis ’resignation, who still stands by Trump?

The President is finding it increasingly difficult to find suitable staff, also because he obviously does not value the critical advice of the experts so much. So far, he has only been able to find an interim chief of staff for the White House, several candidates had previously canceled. His party no longer follows him unconditionally, as the resolutions of the - republican-led - Senate on Yemen and Saudi Arabia have just shown. Even with his favorite project, the building of a wall on the border with Mexico, he does not get any further and therefore threatens a “shutdown” shortly before Christmas, the temporary standstill of government business.

He can blindly rely on his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Pompeo and Bolton also stand by him, although they have a different opinion on the Syria issue. It will be exciting to see who Trump will appoint as Mattis' successor. It will almost certainly become a particularly staunch faithful. It's not really good news.

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