President Donald Trump has announced the retirement of Defense Secretary James Mattis, just one day after the commander-in-chief suddenly declared the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Like many of Trump’s cabinet shuffle announcements, the president took to Twitter to reveal the change.
“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. During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment,” Trump tweeted. “General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!” he added.
Mattis responded Thursday to Trump’s announcement of his retirement with a letter, in which he contended that he was resigning, not retiring. The official said of Trump: “Because you have the right to 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 this position.”
The two very often appeared at odds regarding approaches to overlapping wars waged by the U.S. in the Middle East as well as Trump’s attempts to seek detente with Russia. After appearing to publicly contradict Trump on whether diplomacy was possible with North Korea in August of last year, Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon he had “an obligation to serve” and “that’s all there is to it.”
He also said at the time he disagreed on Trump on certain things upon their first meeting, the first being Trump’s dismissal of the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance as “obsolete” as well as the president’s assurances that “you bet your ass” he would use waterboarding, a torture technique Mattis has condemned. In the end, however, Mattis said that Trump was “not a man who is immune to being persuaded if he thinks you’ve got an argument.”
The chaotic months since then may have proven the former Marine general wrong. The situation appeared to be reaching a breaking point by October, when Trump told CBS that he though Mattis was “sort of a Democrat” and “it could be that he is” leaving.
Though Mattis was known for his anti-Iran stances prior to entering the Trump administration, he was often considered a moderate upon entering the president’s inner circle. Mattis, however, became increasingly shut out from high-level discussions held by the Republican leader. Mattis’s departure just a day after Trump reportedly surprised the Pentagon with a complete and timely phased departure from Syria has prompted speculation over whether the events were related.
During a press conference Thursday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mattis “thought that the time was not right to leave.” He also said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House national security adviser, both of whom were got their positions after their predecessors were ousted earlier this year, opposed the Syria withdrawal.
Trump hit back at the time, tweeting: “So hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$. Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them Russia, Iran & other locals?”
U.S. officials cited by outlets such as CNN and The Wall Street Journal suggested that Trump was next preparing an announcement regarding a withdrawal from the conflict in Afghanistan, ending what would be the longest war in U.S. history.