WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citing his disagreements with President Donald J. Trump over his decision to remove U.S. ground troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis resigned on Dec. 20.
In his resignation letter, Mattis cited differences with Trump on his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of Syria. Last week, Trump announced that he would pull U.S. ground forces out of Syria, claiming that the United States had defeated ISIS and that there was no longer any reason troops needed to be on the ground there any longer.
Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria was controversial with members of his own administration, especially Mattis, who handed in his letter of resignation the day after Trump announced his decision on Syria.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the president.
While Mattis offered to continue as Secretary of Defense until Feb. 28, Trump announced on Twitter Sunday that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will take over as acting Secretary of Defense Jan. 1.
Mattis’s departure has brought criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who respected Mattis as someone who has helped maintain the American foreign policy status quo.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Mattis’s resignation is a signal that’s Trump’s foreign policy decisions are not working.
“Secretary Mattis’s departure from the White House is deeply disturbing,” Van Hollen said in a statement to the Sentinel. “From his resignation letter, it’s clear he was unwilling to stand by as President Trump moves forward with his flawed foreign policy actions that will make our country and our world less safe. I will continue working to fight these policies and stand up for the democratic principles the United States represents around the world.”
Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, is one of the few members of Trump’s original cabinet remaining from when he took office. Unlike many other members of the Trump Administration, Mattis is popular with both Republicans and Democrats, being confirmed by the Senate on a 98-1 vote.
In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote that he worried that China and Russia were gaining particular sway over U.S. allies and are trying to shape the world in their “authoritarian model.”
“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,” he wrote. “That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.”
Mattis’s resignation came a day after Trump announced that he would be ordering U.S. troops out of Syria. During his campaign, Trump was critical of both President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, pledging to put America’s interest’s first abroad.
While Trump has escalated militarily in Syria previously in his presidency – ordering two separate airstrikes against Syrian forces – Trump said his decision to remove U.S. forces out of Syria is because the terrorist threat to the United States in that country has diminished.
“Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Trump tweeted. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria and others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing their work. Time to come home & rebuild.”
Prior to his accession to Secretary of Defense, Mattis spent 44 years serving in the Marines Corp, working his way up from a second lieutenant to general. As a major general, Mattis led the 1st Marine Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2010, Obama appointed Mattis as the commander for the United States Central Command; he served in that position until his retirement in 2013.
After his election in 2016, Trump announced that he would nominate Mattis as Secretary of Defense, calling him a “true General’s General.” While Mattis did not meet the statutory waiting period requirement – that the Secretary of Defense be a civilian for at least seven years before he or she takes the job – Congress granted Mattis a waiver and subsequently approved his nomination.