Trump Hits Back at Mattis on Value of US Alliances, Defends Syria Pullout

In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
In this Dec. 20, 2017, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

President Donald Trump disputed outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the worth of U.S. alliances and appeared to suggest that Mattis was ungrateful for having the opportunity to lead the Pentagon.

Late Saturday, Trump tweeted, "Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S."

Mattis announced his resignation last Thursday, a day after Trump said the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria would be withdrawn. He had been expected to remain in the post until late February while the president considered a replacement.

However, Trump tweeted Sunday that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who never served in the military, will assume the post of acting secretary of defense on Jan. 1.

Trump has a history of making acting secretary appointments permanent. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was acting secretary for several weeks before the president announced that he was being nominated to the permanent position, seemingly catching Wilkie by surprise.

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Trump did not spell out in his latest series of tweets how allies are taking advantage of the U.S., but he has repeatedly chastised NATO allies and South Korea for what he believes is their failure to contribute adequately to mutual defense.

In his letter of resignation, released by the Defense Department last Thursday, Mattis said, "One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships."

He continued, "Because you have the right to have 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 my position."

In his tweet, Trump appeared to suggest that Mattis was ungrateful for the opportunity to return to national service after he was pushed out by President Barack Obama as head of U.S. Central Command in 2013, reportedly over their differences on confronting Iran.

"When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn't, I thought I should," Trump wrote.

He said he had an "interesting relationship" with Mattis during the retired Marine general's nearly two years as defense secretary. "But I also gave all of the resources that he never really had," Trump said, a reference to the record $716 billion current budget for the DoD

In previous tweets, Trump said Mattis had served with "distinction" and added that he would name a replacement shortly.

Mattis' resignation immediately set off speculation on who else in the national security establishment might follow him out the door. The first was Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for Iraq and Syria.

Reports circulated over the weekend that McGurk had issued his letter of resignation to the State Department on Friday, a day after Mattis announced he was stepping down.

In a separate tweet late Saturday, Trump said, "Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!"

Although Trump claimed not to know him, McGurk's title was "Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL [ISIS]." He is a Republican who served in the administration of former President George W. Bush, was appointed special envoy by Obama and retained in that post by the Trump administration.

On CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a frequent critic of Trump, said of McGurk, "I think he did the right thing" by resigning.

In other tweets about Syria over the weekend, Trump defended what he said would be a "slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home."

He rejected criticism of the withdrawal from Syria. "If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!"

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

 

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