James Mattis Resigns as Secretary of Defense

Mattis

Thursday evening President Trump tweeted out that Secretary of Defense James Mattis would be retiring, thanking him for his service. Soon after, the former general’s own letter announcing his departure became public, and along with reporting that he had delivered it to the president after meeting with him on Syria, it is clear Mattis resigned among differences with the administration.

Full Text of Secretary Mattis’ letter to President Trump, via CNN:

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. 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. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe 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. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

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.

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. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability Within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

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37 thoughts on “James Mattis Resigns as Secretary of Defense

  1. I disagree that the DoD is on better budgetary footing now; otherwise there wouldn’t have been as wide of discrepancy earlier this year between what the DoD wants and what the Trump budget guys (i.e. Mulvaney) offered to give them.

    Mattis is fundamentally correct about the alliances, and likely the one think the center-right, center left, and even further left foreign policy schools of thought agree on. He is also correct in that Russia and China are bad actors on the world stage. This is also something the center right and center left mostly agree on. But a lot of the center left took a long time to get onboard with this, and I’m not sure all will still be onboard in the Booker administration.

    But..

    Pulling out of Syria is the one good idea Trump has had. Pulling out of Afghanistan may be the second. The fact that this particular action by Trump was the last straw says a lot not only about Mattis, but also overall about the state of US foreign policy. As does the fact that Mattis is also lauded for stopping Trump from taking out Assad and bringing “the US much deeper into the conflict”

    The ‘adults in the room’ are perfectly willing to ‘muddle along’ without a plan, but are unwilling to actually sell that to the American voting public. Or come of will a plan that will change the game so there’s no longer muddling through. Or just quit the game entirely.

    The built up failure over the past 17 years of the ‘adults in the room’ is manifest today. I feel kinda bad that the Kurds are probably going to pay the biggest price for that failure, but it’s not the first time that’s happened either.

    (and vis a vis great power competition with China, either China is going to be poor forever, or else their economy will be a near peer with the US – but with a 4 to 1 population advantage. Similar to the USA’s core competency in the 20th century – sheer size coupled with good enough economic productivity)

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    • I think you’re right but I’d take it a step further. The supposed adults in the room have been basically wrong about foreign policy since the decision to expand NATO east of the former DDR. Instead of solidifying the alliance where it was we’ve made mutual defense untenable. The assumption that Russia would be down forever/never again interested in its traditional sphere of influence and periodic western territories was pure hubris.

      Those same people doubled down on heedlessly toppling governments without understanding what they’d unleash and getting us involved in unwinnable actions with no clear objectives. The sad part is that, despite the total lack of achievement of any kind their perspective is the only one represented in the mainstream press. The reaction of the center left in this country to this decision has been mind boggling. Like, since when is perpetual, probably unconstitutional involvement in some other country’s civil war without any plan or legitimate interest at stake (all sans popular mandate of course) a liberal position? Hell, political alignment aside, when was it ever a rational position, on the merits?

      Trump is an asshole and I don’t think the way his adminstration has handled NATO is productive but these decisions should be welcomed. The fact that the most rational foreign policy decision in years is being treated this way shows just how disconnected from reality we’ve become.

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      • The assumption that Russia would be down forever/never again interested in its traditional sphere of influence and periodic western territories was pure hubris.

        If you look at a map with Russian eyes, all you see west of Moscow is an incredibly long, widely open, impossible to defend, border, with no natural barriers, and traditional enemies at the other side. Since Nicholas I, who saw everything with the eyes of a soldier, realized this in the mid XIX century, Russia’s foreign policy has been focused on controlling the border countries to avoid an invasion of Russia.

        Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Baltic countries, Finland. Controlling all those has been the focus of Russian politics for close to two hundred years. Anyone that knows some European history should have known Russia, no matter the regime, from Tsarism to Communism, would never passively allow the near abroad to fall outside of Russian influence.

        As a wise strategist said: fight them there, so you don’t have them fighting you here

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        • My view is that claiming that we would defend countries like Estonia has done far more to destroy the credibility of NATO than any crap Trump has said. Arguably we’ve forced Russia’s hand (noise about Georgia joining NATO supposedly figured into Russian intervention there). Maybe the belief is that we can distract/bleed them in their own quagmires in Syria and Ukraine but neither fighting ISIS nor putting our own troops in harm’s way is consistent with that.

          Either there’s some dude puffing cigarettes in a back room with a diabolical but inscrutable agenda or the foreign policy establishment from Mattis to any plausible Clinton appointee has no idea what they’re doing. Hanlon’s razor points me towards the latter.

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          • Either there’s some dude puffing cigarettes in a back room with a diabolical but inscrutable agenda or the foreign policy establishment from Mattis to any plausible Clinton appointee has no idea what they’re doing. Hanlon’s razor points me towards the latter.

            Because history and the agency of others is not something the American character has a lot of respect for, I agree it is the latter. I mean, why would we look at what has been happening during the last two hundred years when we can build our own reality?

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    • I feel kinda bad that the Kurds are probably going to pay the biggest price for that failure, but it’s not the first time that’s happened either.

      Given that the Kurds don’t want to be peacefully spread across four countries and three languages, but instead want Kurdistan, Kurdish, and implicitly the authority to kick the Arabs, Persians, and Turks out, were there ever any long-term options besides (a) give them a country, (b) look the other way while they tried to take a country, or (c) abandon them?

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  2. 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.

    Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours…

    That deserves a special place in the hall of fame for political burns.

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    • Best part is the target of the burn probably doesn’t realize it was a burn – you have to connect two ideas in separate paragraphs to get it.

      Well, first you have to read a whole page of text, then you have to retain the first idea long enough to connect it to the second.

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  3. One thing that bothers me about some of the overly effusive praise of Mattis is that he wouldn’t have within a country mile of President Hillary Clinton’s Pentagon.

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  4. While Mattis is a well qualified SecDef, it is hard to rally behind his desire for the continued un- / barely-authorized invasion of Syria. If that’s the hill on which to he has chosen to die, then I’ll not mourn his departure.

    Of course, since it is Trump making the decision, I’ll allow for the decision to be made in the most contradictory and foolish fashion possible… but that doesn’t mean our overall trajectory ought *not* to be exiting Afghanistan (another point on which Mattis disagrees) and a better handling of Syria which means a coordinated foreign policy and authorization from congress – especially if the goal is regime change in Syria – which, depending on the day and whom we ask, the answer is yes.

    I’d like to hope that Mattis is really just arguing that the withdrawals ought be be handled differently… but from what I’m reading, he’s conducting foreign policy according to his (and the DoD) appraisals of what that foreign policy ought to be. And that I can’t back as a reason to resign… though I still can look with trepidation at the competence of Trump to appoint a successor.

    Since this is a Trump thing, I’m looking forward to scrambled negative partisanship signals… like Code Pink arguing that staying the course in Syria is really the best option.

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  5. Mr. Peel of Twitter (who iirc used to be here in some capacity) raises a valid point

    But here’s the thing: Trump *is* defying the expert consensus here. And while it’s reasonable for an elected official to defy expert consensus, I need to believe that that leader has done the diligence.

    To put it mildly, I do not get that impression from Trump.

    (My response was)

    In this case though, the expert consensus has resulted in more failure than success, more cost than benefit, and often, a lack of consensus in the first place. It’s also most telling that the expert consensus was never willing to make an affirmative case openly to the American public. These operations in Syria have always been on the down low, only slowly revealed over the course of months. It’s only now, when the plug is being pulled, that the expert consensus is scrambling to make a case for continuing. And even at that, the main argument for staying the course still consists of muddling through indefinitely.

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  6. My concern :
    Trump, by doing the right thing in most stupid way possible, for the most incoherent reasons possible, may end up making the wrong thing look better by comparison.

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          • To expand: what we should do in Syria is (at least for me, since I’m a consequentialist) determined by the expected outcomes of our actions. Both withdrawing and staying will have good and bad effects.

            Do I have a lot of trust in the ability of the FP establishment to properly assess those effects? No.

            Do I have a scintilla of trust in Trump’s ability to do the same? Absolutely not.

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          • Here’s the thing though. At some point that establishment clique has to learn something and make a case for itself in light of those things. One of the more cogent Greenwald observations has been the onset of a weird foreign policy amnesia.

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            • It does, and its failure to do this is a major factor in how we got into this mess.

              Nonetheless, given that we are in this mess, it’s not like I believe for a second that Trump is gonna navigate us out of it successfully. Indeed, his presence in the Oval Office is a substantial part of the mess (and something that the FP establishment’s past failures contributed to).

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              • 2Kilmeade went on twitter last night and pushed for a delay.

                The thing is, everyone knows that arguing to remain in Syria/Afghanistan etc is a political loser – even among, *especially* among the Trump base.

                Of all the doublethink the Trumpenproletariat is capable of, the one thing they won’t tolerate is a ‘casual’ war. It’s only the lack of weekly (USA) casualities that’s allowed the Trump administration (and the semi-permanent Pentagon establishment) to get as far over its ski tips as it has.

                Eta – just about every other Trump friendly blog out there is like ‘I like Mattis, but I also like Trump’s decision on Syria and glad it was made)

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    • Perhaps, if we’re lucky, Trump will appoint some paleocon isolationist who has the policy chops to competently oversee disengagement from the middle east in general. There is that constituency present within his electoral alliance- maybe he’ll tap it.

      But considering how much sway the Saudi’s have over him I suspect this is a faint hope. The House of Saud has less than zero interest in the US withdrawing from the region.

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  7. I don’t agree with Mattis on much policy wise (too neocon for me) but I can acknowledge that he’s a unique fellow in that he is a Trump appointee who is leaving his job voluntarily and with his reputation and honor largely intact and un-besmirched. In this administration that’s a significant feat.

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