By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. Defense Chief Jim Mattis will be leaving his post early next year, saying in his resignation letter that his views are not fully “aligned” with President Donald Trump and citing policies toward Russia and China as among the differences.
Mattis’ comments came on December 20 in a letter to the president that was made public shortly after Trump announced on Twitter that the defense secretary would be retiring at the end of February 2019.
The upcoming departure is the latest in a flurry of announced exits from the U.S. administration as Trump nears the halfway point in his four-year term.
It comes a day after Trump surprised and angered many U.S. military leaders, lawmakers, and international allies by announcing he was withdrawing “all” U.S. troops from Syria, where they are assisting a Syrian Arab and Kurdish alliance fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants and other forces.
News agencies are reporting that Mattis and other national security aides opposed the decision, saying it handed Russia, Iran, and Turkey a victory. Reuters quoted an unnamed senior White House official as saying that Mattis resigned during a meeting with Trump after the two had a difference of opinions “on some issues.”
The 68-year-old Mattis, a Marine Corps general, was one of the most-respected members of the Trump administration and had won praise from both Democrats and Republicans. Some, however, have criticized Mattis for not standing up to Trump for policies that many in Congress have opposed.
In his resignation letter, Mattis said, “I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.
“It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America, and our allies.”
Mattis added that his views of “treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.”
“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,” Mattis said.
Minutes earlier, Trump wrote on Twitter that “General Jim Mattis will be retiring, with distinction, at the end of February, after having served my Administration as Secretary of Defense for the past two years.”
“During Jim’s tenure, tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting….equipment.”
“General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!” Trump added.
Trump announced on December 8 that John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, would be leaving his post as White House chief of staff by the end of the year.
Trump and Kelly had been rumored to be at odds over many issues, with some U.S. media reporting the two are no longer speaking to each other.
Among other recent departures, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general, was forced out of his position on November 7, while U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on October 9 that she would step down at the end of the year.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired on March 13 after disagreements with the president. Trump later tweeted that Tillerson was “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell” after Tillerson said Trump was “pretty undisciplined,” and did not read.