Fray­ing ties with Trump put Mat­tis’ fate in doubt

The Straits Times - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON Back when their re­la­tion­ship was fresh and new, and United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump still called his de­fence sec­re­tary “Mad Dog” – a nick­name Mr James Mat­tis de­tests – the wiry re­tired Ma­rine gen­eral of­ten took a din­ner break to eat burg­ers with his boss in the White House res­i­dence.

Us­ing his folksy man­ner, Mr Mat­tis talked the Pres­i­dent out of or­der­ing tor­ture against ter­ror­ism de­tainees and per­suaded him to send thou­sands more Amer­i­can troops to Afghanistan – all with­out ig­nit­ing the pub­lic Twit­ter cas­ti­ga­tions that have plagued other na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials.

But the burger din­ners have stopped.

In­ter­views with more than a dozen White House, con­gres­sional and cur­rent and for­mer De­fence De­part­ment of­fi­cials over the past six weeks paint a por­trait of a pres­i­dent who has soured on his de­fence sec­re­tary, weary of un­favourable com­par­isons to Mr Mat­tis as the adult in the room, and in­creas­ingly con­cerned that he is a Demo­crat at heart.

Nearly all the of­fi­cials, as well as con­fi­dants of Mr Mat­tis, spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the in­ter­nal ten­sions – in some cases, out of fear of los­ing their jobs.

In the sec­ond year of his pres­i­dency, Mr Trump has largely tuned out his na­tional se­cu­rity aides as he feels more con­fi­dent as com­man­der-in-chief, the of­fi­cials said.

Fac­ing what is likely to be a heated re-elec­tion fight once the 2018 midterms are over, aides said Mr Trump was pon­der­ing whether he wanted some­one run­ning the

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