Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis in Norfolk, Virginia, July 2017 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Angered by criticism from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Donald Trump has ordered the former four-star general to leave office on December 31, rather than the February 28 date set for Mattis’s resignation.
Mattis resigned last week in protest over Trump’s impulsive decision, made during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to withdraw all 2,000 US military personnel from Syria.
Trump tweeted immediately after Mattis handed in his resignation letter that the Secretary was retiring “with distinction”: “I greatly thank Jim for his service!”. But sources said Trump had not read the letter, so he was taken apart by days of news coverage of Mattis’s implied but sharp criticism of Trump’s actions and approach to foreign and military policy:
By Saturday night Trump was proclaiming on Twitter that he “gave [Mattis] a second chance” after “President Obama ingloriously fired” the general. (Mattis led the US Central Command from 2010 to 2013. His tour was cut short by Obama officials who thought he was too hawkish on Iran.)
Then Trump announced on Sunday morning:
I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
Trump did not have the will, however, to speak with Mattis. Instead, he ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to deliver the message.
Mattis had planned to stay through a NATO Defense Ministers meeting in February, consolidating steps to bolster the bloc against aggresive Russian measures.
The US envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, Brett McGurk, resigned Friday over Trump’s Syria order. Trump responded, “Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!”
Mattis’s replacement Shanahan was at the aircraft manufacturer Boeing for 30 years before he joined the Trump Administration in 2017. Staff say that Trump likes the Deputy Secretary because Shanahan often reinforces Trump’s complaints about the expense of defense systems.
Shanahan has overseen “Space Force”, a proposed new branch of the US military for space warfare, and the revocation of the pledge to destroy internationally-banned cluster munitions.
French President Emmanuel Macron reacted with concern on Sunday during a visit to Chad, ““To be an ally is to fight shoulder to shoulder….An ally must be reliable, to coordinate with its other allies.”
Macron said, “I want here to pay tribute to General Mattis… for a year we have seen how he was a reliable partner.”
He made no direct reference to Trump.