Prologue:The president used to call them “My Generals”. He expected loyalty to him personally, and never really understood that they pledged loyalty to The Constitution when they took the oath of office.
Jim Mattis was a retired four-star Marine General in the United States Army when he agreed to serve as Donald Trump’s Defense Secretary. He lasted for two years while other generals left during the first tumultuous months of Trump’s administration.
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was the first general, a close confidant during the campaign who lasted only days as national security adviser. He was indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and pled guilty to lying to the F.B.I . Flynn was followed by General H.R. Mc Master who also left the national security adviser position when his advice was not followed by the president. Four-star General John Kelly of the Marine Corp became chief of staff after previous men had left. He served through difficult months until he saw several new appointees could by-pass him and go directly to the president.
Jim Mattis made a difference during his years of service in the Trump administration: He worked in skillful ways to prevent dangerous and impulsive presidential decisions. Early on, he persuaded the president not to pull out of NATO. Then he assured European leaders that the United States would remain committed to the defense of Europe. He offered the same assurances to our allies in Asia.
When Trump was saber=rattling with North Korea, he considered ordering an evacuation of military families from South Korea. Mattis understood this could be considered as a forerunner to an American attack and softened the order which was never carried out.
Trump also decided there should be a ban on all current transgender military persons remaining in the armed forces and no future enlistments. Secretary Mattis instructed the Head of United States Armed Forces not to follow this directive. It was never put into effect.
When the president returned from seeing the huge military parade in Paris celebrating Bastille Day, he announced the United States would hold a similar parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on Veterans Day. There was widespread opposition from Congress as to the cost as well as criticism of the appropriateness of such a parade from the public and the media. Mattis ‘slow walked’ the parade idea with the Pentagon bureaucracy.
Mattis resigns after Trump retreats from Syria: On Thursday, December 20, 2018, Jim Mattis went to the White House with his letter of resignation already written. He tried first to convince the president to reverse his decision which he had announced on Wednesday over the objections of his senior advisers. Trump did not budge. When Mattis returned to the Pentagon, he asked aides to print out 50 copies of his resignation letter and distribute them around the building.
Before he read the letter, Trump said, “Mr. Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations.” He also said Mattis would leave at the end of February and promised to name a replacement shortly. Then he read the letter!
Mattis began, “Dear Mr.President, I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside the men and women of the department in defense of our citizens and our ideals. “ …….The third paragraph: “ One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nations is inextricably linked to our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining our alliances and showing respect to these allies.”……..paragraph five: “ My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by our alliances.” … … next paragraph, “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. The end date for my tenure is February 28th, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as for me to make sure department’s interested are properly articulated and protected.”……..Final paragraph “I pledge my full efforts to a smooth transition that insures the needs and interests of the 2.5 million Service Members and 733,679 DOD civilians receive undistracted attention at all times so they can fulfill their critical round the clock mission to protect the American people. I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.” ………………………………….
……………………………………..Jim H. Mattis
Epilogue: Two hours after Mattis left the White House, Trump stood in the Oval office and dictated a tweet saying Mattis served “with distinction” and was retiring at the end of February. Then he spent hours watching former military analysts and government members praise Mattis on television.
On Friday, December 21, the full text of Mattis’ letter was printed in The New York Times. Praise for him flowed from all quarters of the military and our allies abroad. Senator Mark Warner, top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee reflected the overall agreement that “Mattis was an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
By Saturday morning, Donald Trump reversed himself and announced that Jim Mattis would leave the Defense Department by January l. 2019. His final words were that Mattis leaving was “essentially a firing.” The president had acted as usual on impulse and out of anger at the content of the letter.
Jim Mattis , known as “the last adult in the room”, left his post with dignity and his sterling reputation intact.
………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson