“Mad Dog” Mattis Resigns as Secretary of Defense

Henry Patton ’21

The Trump Administration’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis resigned December 20th in protest of the President’s sudden announcement that he would withdraw troops from Syria, saying “[the President has] the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with [his own].”

Many felt that Mattis was the sole remaining “adult in the room” with the power to curb Trump’s more rash impulses; however, it now appears that their disagreements over Trump’s tendency towards isolationism and Mattis’s belief that “our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships” caused the Defense Secretary to feel he could no longer be effective in that role.

Reactions to this news have been swift from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Senator Marco Rubio, one of Trump’s main competitors in the 2016 GOP primary and a frequent critic of this Administration, tweeted that the letter makes it “abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.” Likewise, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a ranking member of the Armed Forces Committee, released a statement that said, “President Trump is leading our country in the wrong direction and Secretary Mattis isn’t willing to go along with it.”

Of course, the reactions have not been homogeneous, especially from the right. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said that he was “very proud of the President” on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, and, when asked about a potential Turkish attack on the Kurds in Syria, he said the “burden” would lie on General Mattis and those who “want to stay forever in every war theater around the world.” The vast majority of reactions, however, have demonstrated great respect for the general.

Mattis will be succeeded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan, who will take the position of Acting Secretary of Defense in late February. Mr. Shanahan reportedly has little to no foreign policy or military experience; rather, he worked as an executive for Boeing, which is a major US defense contractor, for thirty years. While serving as Deputy Defense Secretary, he was a major proponent of the creation of a “space force,” with which Boeing might very well be involved as a government contractor.

The major significance of Mattis’s resignation, though, lies in how he went about leaving his position. He is the first major member of Trump’s cabinet to have publicly resigned in protest of the Administration’s policies, which is a major blow to the President’s credibility. This departure occurs as the Trump Administration continues to hemorrhage cabinet members. Mattis is the fourteenth cabinet member or Federal agency leader to have left over the two years Trump has been President. Given the ouster of the former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and Mattis’s resignation, it is difficult to pinpoint the leaders within the Executive branch who are widely thought of as able to tame the President’s impulses.