The US Defense Secretary, James Mattis resigned yesterday creating a new episode of the series of resignations that the US President Donald Trump has faced since he took office. This significant step comes a day after the president’s unilateral decision to pull US troops out of Syria, which indicates that Trump did not discuss his plan with others in his administration before announcing it.
Mattis seemed to have taken his revenge by issuing a rebuke to the US president by alluding the way in which Trump deals with his country’s allies. “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,” Mattis said in his resignation letter.
“Because you 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,” Mattis added, which indicates that the gap between the two is deep on various issues.
Undoubtedly, Mattis’ resignation seems was on the cards. However, Trump’s decision to overrule Mattis’ order to the troops last month to set up observation posts in northern Syria, in an attempt to hold the Turks back from attacking any US-backed opposition forces and pulling out the troops in this way brought it to the fore.
“Mattis’ resignation is the most damaging departure yet and highlights the internal chaos consuming the administration as well as the growing impression of instability that Washington is conveying to the world,” former Pentagon official Charles W. Dunne told me. “Mattis’ resignation leaves a vacuum at the heart of American foreign and security policy that Russia, China, Iran and others are likely to exploit, and will intensify the regional chaos touched off by the president’s rash decision to abruptly leave Syria.”
“The decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is the latest sudden reversal in an American Syria policy full of them. It leaves our Kurdish militia allies high and dry, Islamic State [Daesh] militants still in place, and is the strongest signal yet to Bashar Al-Assad and the Russians that they have won the war. I think the only thing we can safely predict is that more chaos will follow from this decision,” the non-resident fellow at the Arab Centre in Washington DC added.
The move also opposes what White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said in September: “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias.” This demonstrates the way in which Trump has gone against two senior officials in his administration.
“After historic victories against ISIS [Daesh], it’s time to bring our great young people home!” the president tweeted on Wednesday, although it was reported that a few thousand Daesh fighters remain in Syria. This comes after a week since Turkey’s Recep Tayyeb Erdogan announced that in a few days, his country will start the operation to clear the East of the Euphrates from Kurdish separatist.
After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home! pic.twitter.com/xoNjFzQFTp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
It is undeniable that Trump has been explicit in his unwillingness to keep the troops in Syria for a long period; he has previously vowed to bring them home. However, what is surprising is the manner in which he did it without prior warnings or consultations, leaving his allies in shock. Perhaps failing to understand how this may impact the soldiers who are on the ground – or even not caring which is more dangerous; something that is concerning. This shows his incapability of getting a grip on how to make America “Great Again”.
What is even more surprising is that the Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that Washington is considering pulling troops out of Syria. “President [Donald] Trump, I think, is now considering leaving Syria once again,” Cavusoglu said at the Doha Forum. This raises a few questions as to whether the Turks were aware of this decision in advance and whether the US approved the sale of $3.5 billion Patriot missiles to Turkey on the same day as the announcement of pulling out the troops was part of a deal or not. By now we are all used to Trump working more as a businessman than a president, putting commercial interests ahead of anything else.
The road ahead seems to be full of uncertainty, especially with a president who changes his mind as frequently as the weather. But what is clear is that if Trump continues leading the country in this way, we will see more resignations.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.