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American Defence Secretary resigns amidst uncertainty over US policy in the Middle East

December 21, 2018 at 2:35 pm

US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis [James N. Mattis/Flickr]

American Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned yesterday over President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. On Wednesday Trump surprised key allies, including members of his own administration, by announcing that Daesh had been defeated and remaining US troops, thought to be around 2,000, were going to be pulled out.

The announcement caught many US State Department and Department of Defence officials off guard. Senior figures in Washington and members of key allies rebuked the president by voicing their concern; contradicting Trump’s appraisal of the Syrian conflict, insisting that the defeat of Daesh was far from being complete.

Mattis however is the highest ranking official to resign over Trump’s decision, which seems to have shocked everyone in Washington. In his resignation letter Mattis strongly hinted at policy differences with Trump. Officials, according to the New York Times said Mattis went to the White House with his resignation letter already written, but nonetheless made a last attempt at persuading the president to reverse his decision on Syria.

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After being rebuffed by the president, Mattis is reported to have returned to the Pentagon and asked aides to print out 50 copies of his resignation letter and distribute them around the building.

In his letter the retired four-star Marine general said: “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held. Because you [President Trump] have the right to have a Secretary of Defence 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.”

Trump’s troop announcement has upended pillars of American policy in the Middle East: defeat Daesh and push back against Iranian influence in the region. In further signs that Trump is trying to rethink his foreign policy, his administration, according to Reuters, is planning to significantly draw down thousands of the 14,000 troops now in Afghanistan, where Mattis has argued for a strong US military presence.

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The pull-out, the Times of Israel noted, leaves America’s closest ally in the Middle East, vulnerable in the fight against Iran in Syria and potentially opens the door for the Islamic Republic to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea.

Until now, American troops have been stationed in north-eastern Syria, along the Iraqi border, blocking such a corridor, through which Iran could more easily distribute advanced weapons and technology throughout the region, especially to its Lebanese client the Hezbollah terrorist army.

While commentators and officials have been left baffled and surprised by this decision, some have speculated that Trump is desperate for a distraction from the Muller investigation, which may potentially lead to his impeachment.