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Mattis' resignation letter lays out strategic hazards facing his successor

Jim Mattis exit was prompted by the decision by the president to pull all of the approximately 2,000 US troops from the fight against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria

AP | PTI  |  Washington 

Threats from Russia, China 'growing'; US must be prepared for war: Mattis
Former US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. Photo: Reuters

The extraordinary resignation letter that handed to a was not just a product of two years of accumulating frustration with an impulsive boss, but an outline of the strategic hazards facing the next

Mattis, who was quietly back at work Friday while stunned staff soldiered on around him, implicitly warned in his letter to the of the threat to the US from allowing alliances to fray and of the risk that disrespecting allies will undermine US credibility.

It was an outline of the challenges facing the nation and whoever takes over as when Mattis leaves Feb. 28.

"As this Administration continues to implode, Mattis' extraordinary resignation is a significant loss and a real indication that Trump's foreign policy agenda has failed and continues to spiral into chaos," said Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the

Mattis announced on Thursday his plan to resign, a move prompted by the decision by the president to pull all of the approximately 2,000 US troops from the fight against the Islamic State group in

Mattis also was dismayed by plans under consideration to cut the number of US troops in and, as his letter made clear, did not see eye to eye with a president who has expressed disdain for NATO and doubts about keeping troops in

The person nominated to succeed Mattis will face a likely to probe for evidence of new strategic direction in hotspots like Syria, and the

In making clear that he could no longer tolerate Trump's approach to American foreign policy, Mattis appeared to fashion a resignation letter that not only expressed his reasons for leaving but also sounded an alarm. He implicitly criticized the president's unwillingness to stand up to or take a stronger stance against Chinese assertiveness.

"I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours," Mattis wrote.

"It is clear that and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritative model ... to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbours, and our allies." Nurturing and extending US alliances was a pillar of Mattis' approach to his job, which means he was at odds with Trump on that score from the earliest months of his tenure.

"While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies," Mattis wrote.

William Cohen, a former and long-time friend of Mattis, put a finer point on this Mattis assertion by saying in response to his resignation, "He cannot be expected to stand behind a president who disrespects our allies and ingratiates himself to our adversaries."

In addition to the frayed state of US relations with NATO, Mattis' successor also is likely to face other hazards hinted at in his resignation letter. These include preserving and rationalizing a strategy for ensuring a lasting defeat of the Islamic State group by the dozens of nations that had backed the US after it entered in 2014.

German officials expressed that had not consulted them on the Trump decision to pull out of

"As an ally and member of the anti-IS coalition we would have considered prior consultation by the about the withdrawal of US troops helpful," said.

The was still reeling Friday from the news that Mattis was leaving. Inside what is normally a very orderly building, military members who are trained to take orders, salute and move ahead were stunned and a bit shaken.

Military missions in Syria and that just a week ago seemed clear and mapped out, were now thrown into chaos. Deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, planners scrambled to pull together a troop withdrawal strategy for Syria that the would accept, all while knowing that their boss a few floors above them quit over that order.

Mattis, 68, is the first Pentagon to resign in protest over a president's foreign policy in many decades. In fact, there may be no historical equivalent to the circumstances of Mattis' departure. The to resign was in November 2014, and although he had expressed differences with President over Syria policy, Hagel was essentially pushed out by an administration that viewed him as ineffective.

Robert McNamara, who served as defence secretary for seven years over two Democratic administrations, left the Pentagon in February 1968, three months after President announced McNamara was resigning to become president of the

McNamara differed with Johnson and the military over war policy amid an escalating anti-war movement, but his departure was not an explicit rejection of Johnson's policies.

First Published: Sat, December 22 2018. 07:30 IST
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