Trump Faces Dwindling List of Possible Replacements for SecDef Mattis

FILE -- Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and President Donald Trump at the Pentagon following a meeting of the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2017. (DOD/U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
FILE -- Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and President Donald Trump at the Pentagon following a meeting of the National Security Council in Washington, D.C., July 20, 2017. (DOD/U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

The departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the manner of his leaving left President Donald Trump on Friday with a dwindling list of prospects for a replacement to lead the Pentagon.

In his remarkable letter of resignation Thursday, Mattis made clear that a major factor in his decision to step down was his opposition to Trump's surprise announcement Wednesday that all of the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn quickly.

Even before Mattis made his opposition known, several individuals often mentioned as potential replacements had already called the withdrawal disastrous.

Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, whose credentials as a constant critic of former President Barack Obama appealed to Trump before he chose Mattis, was critical of the Syrian withdrawal shortly after Trump announced it.

In a series of tweets, Keane said Trump had been successful in destroying the "ISIS safe haven in Syria," but added that he will "lose the peace by withdrawing."

Keane said the U.S. should "stay the course with a modest troop investment, stabilize eastern Syria with a major reconstruction effort and have a seat at table for political solution."

Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, also have appeared on short lists as possible defense secretary nominees, but both have been sharp critics of Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria.

Graham, a Trump golf buddy and Air Force Reserve colonel and lawyer, has joined Democrats in sponsoring a resolution calling on Trump to reverse his decision. On Friday, Graham called for congressional hearings on the pullout via Twitter.

Trump responded with his own tweet: "so hard to believe that Lindsey Graham would be against saving soldier lives & billions of $$$."

Cotton, a former Army captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, also appears to have taken himself out of the running as a Mattis replacement by signing a bipartisan letter to Trump warning that a withdrawal would "renew and embolden" fighters of the Islamic State.

Others who have briefly been considered by Trump as possible nominees include former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, once a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President George W. Bush; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a decorated Vietnam veteran who now works as a national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Show Full Article