MATTIS TO LEAVE HIS POST JAN. 1
President Donald Trump on Sunday pushed the defense secretary out the door two months earlier than planned.
Irritated with the criticism and fallout from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, President Donald Trump on Sunday pushed the Pentagon chief out the door two months earlier than planned, an acrimonious end to a tense relationship that had been eroding in recent months.
In a series of tweets, Trump appeared to question why he had put Mattis in his Cabinet in the first place and said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will take over as acting secretary on Jan. 1 to cover the accelerated departure.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not the president, notified Mattis of the decision, said a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss personnel issues.
The sudden change strips Mattis of any chance to further frame national security policy or smooth rattled relations with allies through the originally planned transition at the end of February. And it reflects White House displeasure with the retired Marine Corps general’s blistering resignation letter, which he delivered to Trump on Thursday.
Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria. U.S. officials, however, said that the reaction to his decision to leave – including the shock and dismay expressed on Capitol Hill – annoyed Trump and likely led to Mattis leaving earlier than planned.
“When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should,” Trump tweeted Saturday. He also fumed over the media coverage of his Syria withdrawal order, suggesting he should be popular for bringing troops home.
“With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!” Trump tweeted.
A White House official said Trump decided Mattis should leave the administration earlier than planned to avoid a drawnout transition when someone is on hand whom they consider a qualified deputy capable of running the Pentagon in an acting capacity. The official asked not to be identified publicly discussing personnel matters.
Lt. Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for Shanahan, said the former Boeing Co. executive will accept the appointment as acting secretary.
It is unusual for the Pentagon to have an acting secretary of defense. Historically when a secretary has resigned, he has stayed on until a successor is confirmed.
While Mattis’ resignation followed Trump’s announcement that he would soon pull all of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, officials said that the decision was the result of an accumulation of disagreements.
In his resignation letter, Mattis made clear he did not see eye to eye with a president who has expressed disdain for NATO and doubts about keeping troops in Asia. Mattis was also unhappy with Trump’s order to develop plans to pull out up to half of the 14,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Earlier Sunday, Trump’s acting chief of staff said that Trump had known for “quite some time now” that he and Mattis “did not share some of the same philosophies … have the same world view.”
Mick Mulvaney told ABC’s “This Week” that the president and his defense chief “just could never get on the same page” on Syria, adding that Trump had said since his presidential campaign that “he wanted to get out of Syria.”
Asked whether Trump wanted a Pentagon leader willing to challenge him or someone in lockstep with his views, Mulvaney said “a little bit of both.”
“I’ve encouraged him to find people who have some overlap with him but don’t see the world in lockstep with him,” Mulvaney said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined leading Republicans on foreign affairs in urging Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw American forces from Syria.
“We believe that such action at this time is a premature and costly mistake that not only threatens the safety and security of the United States but also emboldens” the Islamic State group, President Bashar Assad’s government, Iran and Russia, according to the letter, signed by McConnell and eight other senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who organized it.
They asked Trump to “not make any final decision for 90 days to allow time to adequately study the impacts of this decision on our partners, our allies and the re-emergence of ISIS and other terror groups, to ensure our nation’s strategic interests are secured.”