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James Mattis resignation over Trump foreign policies sparks panic: 'I'm legitimately frightened'

'Our national defense is too important to be subjected to the president’s erratic whims,' senator says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Friday 21 December 2018 10:37 GMT
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigns

Politicians and national security experts have reacted with horror after James Mattis said he was quitting as US defence secretary in protest at Donald Trump’s foreign policies.

The abrupt resignation came a day after Mr Trump announced he was pulling US troops out of Syria, and as the president reportedly weighs up a substantial withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.

In his resignation letter on Thursday, Mr Mattis appeared to rebuke the president’s strained relations with traditional allies, and his diplomatic style that has been viewed as brash and insulting worldwide. The letter conspicuously omitted any praise of Mr Trump.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours ... I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he said.

Mr Mattis’ resignation was met with disquiet by figures in both parties in Washington.

Marco Rubio, a Republican senator for Florida, wrote on Twitter that Mr Mattis’ resignation letter “makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries”.

Describing the situation as “scary”, Democratic senator Mark Warner said: “Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.

“As we’ve seen with the president’s haphazard approach to Syria, our national defense is too important to be subjected to the president’s erratic whims.”

Donald Trump hints defence secretary Jim Mattis could resign: 'he's sort of a Democrat'

Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant who served on George HW Bush’s presidential campaign, said he was “legitimately frightened for the country”.

“Donald Trump just lost the most significant, stabilizing, and competent member of his entire administration,” he said.

Mr Mattis is said to have offered his resignation during a meeting on Thursday. The defence secretary is the latest high-profile exit from the Trump administration since the midterm elections last month, and reflects what has been seen as a cooling of relations between the two men in recent months.

His resignation was announced on Thursday evening by Mr Trump, who attempted to paint the move as a retirement.

“General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years," he wrote on Twitter.

Barack Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said in the wake of the president's announcement: “US alliances and some semblance of the international order can probably survive two more years of this but definitely not another 6.”

A senior US national security official, who spoke to The Atlantic on condition of anonymity, said Mr Mattis was the "last brake" on a president "that makes major life-and-death decisions by whim without reading, deliberation, or any thought as to consequences and risks".

“The saving grace is that this president has not been tested by a major national-security crisis. But it will come, and when it does, we are f*****.”

Even senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally who rarely speaks out against the president, said he was “distressed” at Mr Mattis’ departure from government.

“I believe it’s essential that the United States maintain and strengthen the post-World War II alliances that have been carefully built by leaders in both parties," Mr McConnell said in a statement.

"We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter."

He continued: “I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership.”

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