WASHINGTON (CN) – Secretary of Defense James Mattis will retire in February, President Donald Trump announced via tweet on Thursday evening, apparently in protest of Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.
“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,” Trump tweeted.
The president also credited the retired four-star general with helping his administration get “allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations.”
But Mattis said in his resignation letter that he was leaving his post so that the president could have a secretary in place whose views were closer to his own. His resignation comes a day after Trump abruptly decided to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, a move that runs contrary to a stay-the-course philosophy Mattis has promoted at the Pentagon since his appointment last year.
Mattis used his resignation letter to make his clear his discontent with Trump’s leadership. He called out the president’s treatment of our allies – and his frequent kowtowing to Russia – as reasons for Thursday’s resignation.
“I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” Mattis wrote. “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, American and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.”
He continued: “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. 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.
Mattis’ resignation sent shockwaves through Washington, not least because he’s seen as one of the few remaining “adults in the room” at the White House. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Mattis “an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
Republican Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took to Twitter to express his dismay, noting Mattis’ resignation letter “makes it abundantly clear that we are headed toward a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries.”
But Mattis’ relationship with Trump had eroded in recent months, in large part due to their disagreements over the president’s decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, to cancel military exercises with South Korea, to create a “space force,” and to put on a big military parade like the one he saw in France on Bastille Day in 2017.
In an interview on “60 Minutes” this past October, Trump said of Mattis: “I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.” He then hinted Mattis’ departure was imminent.
“He may leave,” the president said. “I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington.”