Retired Marine Corps general and former Trump secretary of defence Jim Mattis, who resigned from his post over differences with the president on Syria and NATO policy, has warned that American politics are at a difficult place at the moment.
“I will not speak ill of a sitting president. I’m not going to do it,” Mattis said, speaking to CBS News in his first interview since announcing his resignation in December.
“He’s an unusual president, our president is. And I think that especially with, just the rabid nature of politics today, we gotta be careful. We could tear this country apart,” the retired commander warned.
Mattis’s comments echoed his essay in the Wall Street journal, published Wednesday, which warned that Americans “all know we’re better than our current politics,” and said that “tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.” The essay offered veiled criticism of Trump and his America First foreign policy, arguing that a true leader “must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect” for US allies. Mattis also indirectly accused Trump of being a “polemicist,” rather than a leader.
In the CBS interview, set to be aired on Sunday, Mattis revealed that he hasn’t spoken to Trump since his resignation, and said he made his decision to quit based on disagreements with Trump over Syria pullout plans.
“This is how I saw the strength of America, that we keep our alliances together and we keep them tight,” he said. “And if I wasn’t the right person to do this, the president needed someone more aligned with his views.”
In his WSJ essay, Mattis wrote that he felt it was “time to resign” after his “concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated.”
On Thursday, Mattis told The Atlantic that while he would keep his views on Trump to himself for now, his silence was “not eternal,” and said he wouldn’t abstain from criticism “forever.”
Trump announced a US pullout from Syria in late 2018, citing victory in the US coalition’s war against Daesh (ISIS)* and his desire to pull the US out of its “endless wars” in the Middle East. Initial plans to withdraw all 2,000-2,500 US troops in the country in the immediate future have since been bogged down, with the US carrying out a “drawdown” but maintaining a troop presence, including at the US base in Syria’s at-Tanf near the border with Jordan. Russian and Syrian officials have repeatedly accused the US military of training and equipping 'former terrorists' at the base. Earlier this month, the Pentagon warned that the Syrian withdrawal has led to the threat of Daesh rebuilding its presence in the country. Damascus has repeatedly demanded that the US completely end its illegal presence on its territory.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.