Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syria pullout announcement

Of the many resignations from the Trump administration Defence Secretary Jim Mattis walking away seems to have caused the most consternation.

It is claimed that Mattis resigned ij protest and on principle over Trump’s announcement that the US would withdraw troops from Syria.

Fox News: Behind the scenes of the Mattis bombshell: More resignations expected after ‘protest’ exit

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation, which shocked Washington’s national security establishment and rattled America’s allies, was sealed in a fateful 18-hour period that saw President Trump resolve to withdraw troops from Syria – alarming Pentagon officials who see America’s role in the region as crucial.

“Make no mistake – Jim Mattis is resigning in protest over the president’s national security policies,” a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News.

Fox News is told more resignations at the Pentagon could be coming in Mattis’ wake.

Trump has stood by his Syria decision, telling detractors that the pullout should come as “no surprise” given his 2016 campaign promises and arguing that America’s role as “Policeman of the Middle East” is not worth the sacrifice.

But Mattis could not abide the call. Fox News has learned new details of the final moments that led the hardened Pentagon leader to march his resignation letter to the White House, setting off speculation – and bipartisan concern – about the direction Trump’s foreign policy will take in the new year, especially with John Kelly leaving as White House chief of staff.

Before leaving for the White House, Mattis watched the president’s video explaining his decision to pull out of Syria. In the video, Trump declared, “We have won against ISIS … and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

According to those familiar with the secretary’s decision, it was a resignation based on principle.

Fox News is told that Mattis believes pulling out of Syria is a betrayal to the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces – U.S. allies whom military leaders believe will be slaughtered once the U.S. leaves Syria.

In Washington, what comes next may be another seminal debate that will define the principles of the Republican Party for years to come.  In his military drawdown effort, Trump has found allies in lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who adamantly oppose U.S. intervention overseas.

But for now, they are overwhelmed by hawkish Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham who consider such pullouts a grave and strategic mistake.

The Syria pullout was coupled with news that the Pentagon is being told to consider withdrawing up to 7,000 troops from Afghanistan – or half the U.S. presence – against the advice of senior military leaders.

“If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said, regarding Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, Mattis was asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier at the Reagan National Defense Forum whether he was being pressured to pull out of Afghanistan. Mattis warned of the consequences of doing so:

“If we leave, 20-odd of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world centered in that region, and we walk out of there, then we know what will happen. Our intelligence services are very specific that we will be under attack in a number of years.”

There are risks whatever is done in the Middle East, in particular at the moment regarding Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The US withdrawing must give Russia significantly more influence.

Much may now depend on who Trump appoints in place of Mattis, but the sudden resignation may create an immediate problem – unless a new Defence Secretary is appointed soon that may give Trump a free hand to do as he wants less restrained. That will worry a quite a few people – and more than a few countries.

Mattis to Depart in February After Clash With Trump Over Syria

So Mattis will remain in the job for two months, but his influence is likely to be significantly reduced in that time.

Graham: Afghanistan Withdrawal Paves Way Toward 2nd 9/11

Trump’s Decision Ends Policy That Found Lukewarm Support in U.S.

 

 

 

 

US Defence Secretary quits over differences with Trump

Jim Marttis, US Defence Secretary and regarded as one of the more sensible in the Trump administration, has quit, not just adding to the significant staff churn but also losing one of the more stabilising members of the administration.

Republican supporters of trump has also

Reuters: U.S. allies in Asia-Pacific region rattled after Mattis quits

The abrupt resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sparked concern among Asia-Pacific allies who credit the retired general with building trust and tempering isolationist impulses, regional officials and analysts said on Friday.

Mattis, who embraced America’s traditional alliances, said he was quitting after falling out with President Donald Trump over foreign policy, including surprise decisions this week to pull troops from Syria and start planning a drawdown in Afghanistan.

“He has generally been referred to as one of the adults in the Trump administration,” Australian government Senator Jim Molan told The Australian newspaper.

He said his departure was concerning because it introduced “another extreme variable” into U.S. decision making.

Mattis’ departure also robs Australia, without a U.S. ambassador since 2016, of a key ally in the Trump administration.

“Australia has always had the ear of Mattis,” a U.S.-based diplomatic source told Reuters.

Australia has had roughly 800 troops in the Middle East since 2014, mostly based in Iraq, as part of coalition efforts to combat the Islamic State group.

About 300 troops are based in Afghanistan, where they have had a presence since not long after the war began 17 years ago.

Trump announced on Wednesday that U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn, a decision that upended U.S. policy in the region.

A U.S. official said on Thursday Trump was planning to withdraw at least 5,000 of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Mattis had advocated for a strong U.S. military presence to bolster diplomatic peace efforts there.

Telegraph: Republican backlash following scathing resignation of Jim Mattis should ring alarm bells for Trump

Even by the standards of the Trump administration, it has been an extraordinary 48 hours, culminating in the resignation of Jim Mattis.

The consensus is that the departure of the widely-admired Defence Secretary is a disaster, depriving the administration of one of the few grown-ups in the room.

If that were not enough, Trump has fallen out with two of his most vociferous cheerleaders, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and ultra-conservative firebrand columnist Ann Coulter.

Graham described the President’s decision to pull out of Syria as a “stain on the honour of the US.” Coulter rounded on him for failing to build his long-promised wall on the southern border.

MSNBC:  Mattis first ever secretary of defense to resign in protest

Fox News: Mattis resigning as Pentagon chief after clashes with Trump

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned Thursday after clashing with President Donald Trump over the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and after two years of deep disagreements over America’s role in the world.

Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in Trump’s administration, will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years struggling to soften and moderate the president’s hardline and sometimes sharply changing policies.

He told Trump in a letter that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”

It would be difficult for anyone to be aligned with the erratic Trump.

His departure was immediately lamented by foreign policy hands and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who viewed the retired Marine general as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never held political office or served in the military. Even Trump allies expressed fear over Mattis’ decision to quit, believing him to be an important moderating force on the president.

Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasized the importance of standing up for U.S. allies — an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.

“While the U.S. 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,” Mattis wrote.

It may be difficult for Trump to find a replacement anywhere near as respected as Mattis, Trump is tending more towards appointing people who will go along with his whims. The role of Defence Secretary is one of the most influential in international relations, so the resignation could have an impact around the world, especially if Trump replaces him with someone who won’t stand up to him.

And the problems aren’t just on defence and security.

Stuff: Under siege, Donald Trump propels US government and markets into crisis

US President Donald Trump began his day under siege, listening to howls of indignation from conservatives over his border wall and thrusting the government toward a shutdown.

He ended it by announcing the exit of the man US allies see as the last guardrail against the president’s erratic behaviour: Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, whose resignation letter was a scathing rebuke of Trump’s worldview.

At perhaps the most fragile moment of his presidency, and vulnerable to convulsions on the political right, Trump single-handedly propelled the US government into crisis and sent markets tumbling with his gambits this week to salvage signature campaign promises.

The Dow Jones has slumped in the last week and took a further dive in Thursday (US time).

The president’s decisions and conduct have led to a fracturing of Trump’s coalition. Hawks condemned his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. Conservatives called him a “gutless president” and questioned whether he would ever build a wall. Political friends began privately questioning whether Trump needed to be reined in.

Is it possible to reign in when people like Mattis give up trying?

 

Trump and the nuclear football

As dysfunction and bizarreness continues in US politics concerns keep surfacing about whether President Trump can be trusted in command of the US nuclear arsenal.

In a recent public spat with Trump Senator Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’.

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

NBC News: Trump Wanted Tenfold Increase in Nuclear Arsenal, Surprising Military

President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

Tillerson is another who has come into conflict with Trump recently, reportedly calling Trump a moron.

As an aside Trump has threatened to revoke NBC’s broadcasting license over this article.

Ironic claiming that media is bad for the country.

What would happen if Trump rhetoric escalated to the point of pushing the nuclear button?

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly, both military men, are seen as potential moderators of trump’s excesses.

Raw Story: GOP official imagines Kelly and Mattis discussed tackling Trump if he ‘lunges for the nuclear football’

New York Magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman on Tuesday reported on a remarkable conversation he had with a senior Republican official, who described imagined conversations Donald Trump’s chief of staff Gen. John Kelly and defense secretary James Mattis have had about “physically [restraining] the president” in the event he “[lunges] for the nuclear football.”

Sherman was discussing the growing concern in the West Wing over Trump’s temperament, particularly as the president continues to escalate feuds with prominent Republicans like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) while simultaneously setting the United States “on the path to World War III.”

“A conversation I had with a very prominent Republican today, who literally was saying that they imagine Gen. Kelly and Secretary Mattis have had conversations that if Trump lunged for the nuclear football, what would they do?” Sherman told NBC’s Chris Hayes. “Would they tackle him? I mean literally, physically restrain him from putting the country at perilous risk.”

It is illegal for them to prevent their President from going nuclear.

“That is the kind of situation we’re in,” Sherman added.

Pressed by Hayes to explain the sources’ relationship to—and direct knowledge of—the Trump administration, Sherman explained, “these are the conversation they have, on very good authority, are taking place inside the White House.”

Wikipedia: Nuclear football

The nuclear football (also known as the atomic football, the President’s emergency satchel, the Presidential Emergency Satchel, the button, the black box, or just the football) is a briefcase, the contents of which are to be used by the President of the United States to authorize a nuclear attack while away from fixed command centers, such as the White House Situation Room. It functions as a mobile hub in the strategic defense system of the United States. It is held by an aide-de-camp.

If the president (who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces) ordered the use of nuclear weapons, they would be taken aside by the “carrier” and the briefcase would be opened. A command signal, or “watch” alert, would then be issued to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president would then review the attack options with the aide and decide on a plan, which could range from a single cruise missile to multiple ICBM launches.

The United States has a two-man rule in place at the nuclear launch facilities, and while only the president can order the release of nuclear weapons, the order must be verified by the Secretary of Defense to be an authentic order given by the president (there is a hierarchy of succession in the event that the president is killed in an attack).

This verification process deals solely with verifying that the order came from the actual President.

The Secretary of Defense has no veto power and must comply with the president’s order.

Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis is the current Secretary of Defense, but he seems to be a lot more sensible and sane than Trump.

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum has pointed out that the operational plan for nuclear strike orders is entirely concerned with the identity of the commanding officer and the authenticity of the order, and there are no safeguards to verify that the person issuing the order is actually sane.

Notably, Major Harold Hering was discharged from the Air Force in late 1973 for asking the question “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” under Richard Nixon

We may never find out what goes on behind closed doors in the presidency. Or all hell could break loose.

trumpbomb

When will it be appropriate to challenge Trump’s license to wreak havoc?

Trump appointees baffled and incensed

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is reported to be incensed about being out of the loop on Donald Trump’s moves on immigration, and Rex Tillerson, nominated as Secretary of State is reported to be baffled – and that’s before Trump sacked the acting Attorney General Sally Yates for putting a spoke in his immigration policy executive orders.

Yates said in a memo on Monday that she was “not convinced” that Trump’s order was lawful, nor that its defense was consistent with what she described as the department’s obligation to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

Yates claims she is ordering the Justice Department not to defend the executive order because it is not “wise or just.” This is quite significant. I am not aware of any instance in which the Justice Department has refused to defend a presumptively lawful executive action on this basis.

SECOND UPDATE: Some have asked what I think AAG Yates should have done, given her views of the EO. My answer is simple: Resign, and then publicly explain her reasons for doing so. If Yates believes that the President’s various comments about a “Muslim ban” undermine her ability to defend (or oversee the defense of) an executive action that OLC concluded (and she does not dispute) is “lawful on its face,” she should have stepped down as Acting Attorney General.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I also recommend Jack Goldsmith’s parsing of Yates’ statement here.

Acting attorney general orders Justice Department attorneys not to defend immigration executive order

There are some questions about the legal basis of the acting Attorney General’s refusal to defend in court Trump’s refugee and immigration ban, but the President sacking the top law official has raised eyebrows dramatically. An essential element of a healthy democracy is to have an Attorney General able to act independently of Presidential influence.

Some are suggestion the US could be heading for a constitutional crisis.

And the AG is not the only high profile sacking on the same day.

Fox News: Trump’s new acting attorney general will enforce immigration order

The White House said late Monday that the country’s new acting attorney general pledged to “defend and enforce” the laws of the country shortly after President Trump fired the former seat holder who refused to enforce his order on immigration.

Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general and an Obama appointee, dramatic fashion after she refused to defend in court his refugee and immigration ban. The Wall Street Journal reported that Yates learned of her firing Monday evening in a hand-delivered note from the White House’s Office of Personnel.

The firing came hours after Yates directed Justice Department attorneys not to defend the executive order, saying she was not convinced it was lawful or consistent with the agency’s “obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”

In a statement, Trump said Yates had “betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”

Accusations of ‘betrayal’ have again been suggested as similar to a ‘1984’ world.

He named longtime federal prosecutor Dana J. Boente as Yates’ replacement. Boente served in the Eastern District of Virginia and will remain in the seat while Congress considers the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., which could happen next week.

Sessions could also be a contentious appointment. It is thought that he has been heavily involved in a ‘shock and awe’ approach to executive orders.

A lot of concerns have been expressed about how this is happening.

Trump’s order has faced condemnation from executives at top companies, including Goldman Sachs and Coca-Cola.

It could impact on many businesses through disruption to employees.

At least three top national security officials – Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department – have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it.

Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, officials told the Associated Press.

Mattis, who stood next to Trump during Friday’s signing ceremony, is said to be particularly incensed. A senior U.S. official said Mattis, along with Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, was aware of the general concept of Trump’s order but not the details. Tillerson has told the president’s political advisers that he was baffled over not being consulted on the substance of the order.

I wonder how often top officials will be fired for not doing what Trump wants.

It could be that trump is just trying to stamp his power on proceedings, but past experience suggests there is likely to be ongoing chaos and mayhem.

After a chaotic weekend during which some U.S. legal permanent residents were detained at airports, some agencies were moving swiftly to try to clean up after the White House.

When Fox is this critical of Trump’s administration it should sound serious warning bells. It is more than just the left wing over-reacting.