Defense Secretary’s Resignation Reflects Upon Trump’s Destructive Foreign Policy
Marco Levytsky, National Affairs editor
With this New Year, Ukraine has lost its most effective voice within the administration of U.S President Donald Trump. On December 20, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis tendered his resignation citing differences over policy a day after the president abruptly called for the withdrawal of American forces from Syria.
In his letter of resignation, Mattis reiterated his support for the system of alliances the United States has developed since the Second World War and his “unambiguous” approach to dealing with authoritarian rivals – two pillars of U.S. foreign policy Trump has seriously undermined.
“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,” he wrote.
“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,” added Mattis.
An angry Trump rejected Mattis’ offer to stay on until the end of February and appointed Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as acting head of the department effective Jan. 1, elevating a former Boeing Co. senior executive with little experience in international affairs.
But what really stands out about the Mattis resignation is how it came about and what it demonstrates about Trump’s utter incompetence (or even worse) when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs.
It came about as a result of Trump’s telephone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on December 14. According to officials who spoke with The Associated Press on conditions of anonymity, the call was made in response to Erdogan’s threats to launch a military operation against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northeast Syria, where American forces are based.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mattis and other members of the national security team prepared a list of talking points for Trump to tell Erdogan to back off, the officials said.
But the officials said Trump, who had previously accepted such advice and convinced the Turkish leader not to attack the Kurds and put U.S. troops at risk, ignored the script. Instead, the president sided with Erdogan.
Erdogan put Trump on the defensive, reminding him that he had repeatedly said the only reason for U.S. troops to be in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State and that the group had been 99 percent defeated. “Why are you still there?” the second official said Erdogan asked Trump, telling him that the Turks could deal with the remaining IS militants.
Trump quickly capitulated by pledging to withdraw, shocking both his own advisors and Erdogan.
The officials said the conversation set off a frantic, four-day scramble to convince the president either to reverse or delay the decision to give the military and Kurdish forces time to prepare for an orderly withdrawal. Trump, however, was unmoved, they said.
Aside from the fact Trump once again took the word of a dictator (and Erdogan clearly fits that description) over his own advisers, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and the Russian Federation’s Vladimir Putin, he shamelessly betrayed the most loyal allies the United States has in the region – namely the Kurds. With the U.S. forces out of the way, there is nothing stopping Erdogan from attacking the Kurds as he has pledged to do. With Kurds out of the way, ISIS will regroup and gain strength so it can further terrorize the world. Trump’s decision to pull out also leaves the door open for Putin and his Syrian allies to do as they please.
Mattis departure not only eliminates one of the best-informed and effective officials in Trump’s cabinet, but leaves the door open for Trump to further engage in his incoherent, chaotic policies fueled by a narcissistic psychosis and a destructive neo-isolationism that can only further imperil global security at a most insecure period in our history.