Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be stepping down from his position as leader of the Department of Defense next February. President Donald Trump tweeted the announcement after receiving a letter of resignation from Mattis on Thursday.
In the letter, Mattis told Trump that he will be resigning so that the president can have a leader “whose views are better aligned with yours.” He expressed his belief that the president had a right to a secretary of defense who could support his policies and actions.
The secretary of defense spoke of his unwavering opinions that American leaders lead by “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors.” He backed up that position by mentioning his more than 40 years of working in the defense of the United States.
Mattis also drew attention to American foreign policy efforts, stating that the United States “must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.” He specifically mentioned growing tensions with China and Russia that he believed needed to be addressed. “We must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense,” Mattis wrote.
Military Leader in Washington
Mattis has been a key figure in Washington as part of the Trump administration’s leadership. Military members enthusiastically approved on his appointment to the position of secretary of defense back in 2017. Media coverage has said that his resignation has “taken Washington by surprise.”
In an analysis by CNN’s Chris Cillizza, particular attention was paid to Mattis’s point of prioritizing strong alliances. “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 quoted from Mattis’s letter.
Cillizza and others interpreted that sentiment as Mattis’s rejection of Trump’s approach to foreign policy that puts American interests before, and often at the expense of, other nations.
Fox News analysts praised Mattis for his strong leadership as secretary of defense while noting that Mattis’s disagreement with the president on the correct course of action in Syria was most likely a factor in his resignation. President Trump announced just the day before that U.S. troops would leave Syria.
….equipment. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2018
Retiring or Resigning?
Mattis did not specifically write whether his departure was a resignation or retirement, although the reasons that he gave for leaving certainly sound more like a resignation rather than a planned exit of the workforce.
President Trump maintains that Mattis will be “retiring, with distinction” at the end of a 2-year term as secretary of defense. “During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment. General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations,” tweeted Trump. “I greatly thank Jim for his service!” he concluded.
It remains to be seen who will replace such an experienced and celebrated military leader as secretary of defense. General Mattis has been universally applauded for his strong leadership while in uniform and since taking up the position of defense secretary. The impact that his departure, and the sentiments expressed in his resignation letter, will have on Washington will be far-reaching.