President Donald Trump’s decision to pull all U.S. troops in Syria is the latest example of the commander in chief ignoring advice from Defense Secretary James Mattis.
- News reports began circulating this summer that Mattis’ influence with the president was on the wane, as evidenced by Trump’s decisions to pull out of the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement, move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, impose steel and aluminum tariffs on allies, and stand up Space Force as a sixth military branch.
- Mattis has said repeatedly that he enjoys a good relationship with the president, but Trump has increasingly overruled his defense secretary in the latter half of this year. The president has publicly contradicted Mattis about war games in South Korea, nominated Army Gen. Mark Milley as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff instead of Mattis’ preferred choice Air Force Gen. David Goldfein, and insisted that U.S. troops on the southwestern border have authority to shoot asylum seekers.
- The likely incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee told reporters before Trump announced the Syria withdrawal that he did not think that Mattis is losing influence in the Trump administration.
- “I think he’s losing allies,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters at a Dec. 12 Defense Writers Group breakfast. “His influence is probably as great as it’s been but John Bolton is a more problematic national security advisor than H.R. McMaster.”
- Without McMaster, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House Chief of Staff retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, there are fewer people in the White House with which Mattis can work, Smith said.
- The situation is analogous to an episode of “The Office,” in which the two main characters go away for a trip, Smith said.
- “Oscar in the office says when Jim and Pam are on their honeymoon: ‘There’s a very delicate balance between crazy and sane in the office and with Jim and Pam away on vacation the balance has shifted in a bad direction.’ That’s similar to the way I look at the White House.”
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