Part of the fallout from President Trump’s decision to pull US troops from Syria appears to be the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis. Mattis had been rumored to be one of the key Cabinet officials likely to leave after the mid-term elections, especially after Trump called Mattis “sort of a Democrat.” Now that Trump has made the decision to pull US troops from Syria, a decision that Mattis apparently disagrees with, Mattis is on his way out.
Mattis’ resignation letter made it clear that he and the President don’t see eye to eye on many issues, as Mattis stated that Trump had the right “to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours...” Mattis claimed to believe that the US shouldn’t be the world’s policeman, yet he then went on to state that the US needs to “advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values...”
Mattis similarly cited NATO and the Defeat-ISIS coalition as proof of the beneficial use of American power, yet it’s precisely those alliances that have encumbered the country and led to intervention after intervention. NATO is a textbook example of mission creep, as the organization has outlived its original role of defending Western Europe against Soviet aggression. After the fall of the Soviet Union the alliance expanded eastward in an attempt to encircle Russia, building bases in Eastern Europe and involving itself in the continuing intervention in Afghanistan.
The pretext of fighting in Syria to defeat ISIS was a similar means of intervening in another country’s affairs, declaring that US forces would be there until the Assad regime was defeated. Trump’s sudden pullout made it clear that Trump considers himself the boss and won’t be cowed by his advisers. His instincts are sound, that the US shouldn’t get itself involved in messy, open-ended interventions.
Trump understands that the bloated, sclerotic nature of the modern US military establishment is incapable of quick, decisive military action to achieve any sort of end. The pattern that we have seen for the past 50+ years has been that of sending advisers on a small scale, then air assets and ground troops until there is finally an all-out full-scale military campaign.
Trump has rightfully assessed that the US gains nothing from remaining in Syria, gains nothing from Assad being deposed, and that he gains nothing from continuing to listen to advisers who advocate for open-ended involvement. Let’s just hope that Trump’s pick for his next Secretary of Defense shares his views.