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Horowitz: Mattis Resignation on Principle Sounds Clarion Call

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


Unlike the seemingly endless number of Trump officials who have left an Administration that is setting records for turnover, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis decided not to "go gently into that good night."   And the nation is the better for it.

Mattis’ resignation on principle sounded a clarion call, telling others--particularly Republican Senators and foreign policy experts--that in the Trump era the stakes are too high to continue to complain in private and go along to get along in public.

As Mattis put it in his forceful and to the point resignation letter, ‘My views on 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. 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 the solidarity of our alliances. 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 event that triggered the four-star General’s resignation was Trump’s reckless decision to abruptly withdraw our 2,000 troops from Syria without consulting our coalition partners or key members of Congress.  Trump made the decision in a phone call with President Erdogan of Turkey who told him that his nation can fill the vacuum that would be created and mop up eradicating what remains of ISIS.  Job one for the Turkish Strong Man, of course, is not going after ISIS; it is wiping out our allies the Syrian Kurds--who Erdogan views as mortal enemies.  While, there may be solid reasons for withdrawing our troops from Syria, a sensible way of proceeding would include careful planning and plenty of advance notice to our allies on the ground as well as achieving enforceable security guarantees from Turkey.  As is typical for him, Trump checked none of these boxes, demonstrating once again that he is not fit to hold the office.

But this one incident was just the final straw.  Mattis makes clear in his resignation letter that Trump’s fondness for autocrats and disrespect for allies are in the highly respected and trusted Secretary of Defense’s view dangerous to our national security. By stating his strong disagreements plainly, he made it hard for Republican officials to continue to duck.

In the wake of the resignation.  a fair number of Republican Senators did come out and express their opposition to Trump’s Syria decision and praise Mattis.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY), who usually loathes to criticize the president publicly, for example, issued a tough statement that said in part,’” It’s essential that the United States maintain and strengthen the post-World War II alliances that have been carefully built by leaders in both parties. We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis, who shares those clear principles, will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership.”

 Referring to the Mattis resignation, former FBI Director James Comey pungently tweeted, “To a president without any external ethical framework, folks who resign on principle must be confusing.”

But it appears that for the moment at least Mattis’ resignation has reminded some others that the times require standing up for principle. Let’s hope that we see more of that in the New Year.  With Mattis no longer there to reassure allies and curb at least some of Trump’s worst instincts, it will be needed even more.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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