In a recent interview with reporters, US Secretary of Defense Mattis, who has now resigned, told them they were not the enemies of the Americans. It was a friendly remark to the reporters and that at the same time mocked President Trump’s repeated statements against the hostile “fake media” as he describes it.
Few days earlier, Trump goaded Mattis in an interview with 60 Minutes when he said he was a democrat to some extent. In the midst of the fierce partisan war these days, being described as democrat means that you are sympathetic with the enemies. Indeed, that was the death kiss that ended with the resignation of the US Secretary of Defense on Thursday.
The differences between the two men also surfaced regarding ties with European allies. In terms of the Iranian file, Mattis was closer to the Europeans than Trump was. Trump’s enthusiasm to make the Europeans pay more money for the NATO budget was met by a calmer position from his defense secretary who made different remarksMamdouh AlMuhaini
However, the relationship between the two men actually gradually deteriorated due to ideological differences rather than personal ones. Unlike Tillerson, the former secretary of state, whom Trump described as dumb and lazy, Trump’s relationship with Mattis appeared to be strong and vital from the first meeting, which was enough for Trump to give him the important position. Trump, who does not like wordiness and supercilious terms was impressed with Mattis’ spontaneity and his sharp intelligence that was enough to convince him of certain stances even when it comes to the most complex cases, such as the torture of terror suspects through waterboarding to extract confessions.
Trump was a supporter of this tactic but Mattis told him that they do not need it as all he needs is “a pack of cigarettes” to make the accused reveal his dark secrets. Trump then changed his position. It is difficult to accept a hasty opinion regarding such a thorny matter unless you are swept away by emotion towards he who made the remarks, and this was the case with Trump who also liked the idea of having a secretary of defense nicknamed the “Mad Dog,” – a fierce guard dog that protects the US and its interests from interlopers and devastators.
This mutual personal affection was not enough as the visions diverged between the two men. Mattis disagreed with Trump in important matters such as the sudden US withdrawal from Syria. Mattis, who hates betraying friends (the Kurds) whom he stood by in battlefields, views this as a strategic mistake. All the indicators provide no explanation to Trump's hasty exit as he based it on purely internal reasons. Bringing back American soldiers safely to their homeland after defeating ISIS and not engaging in any futile wars and battles that do not serve the American interest are what concern the American president who now has one thing in mind which is to be re-elected. This is what matters and the rest is details, including the Kurds, the remnants of ISIS or the fate of Assad.
However, if Mattis was right in his opposition to withdraw from Syria, he gave dubious advice and recommendations. He was against tearing apart the nuclear deal and adopted a favorable stance regarding his friend, the former national security chief, McMaster, who advised the president to wait and amend the agreement rather than tear it apart. It is said that Mattis was intransigent and tried to discourage Trump from his decision and only stopped doing so after Trump got angry and asked him to break it off. Fortunately, Trump was not influenced by Mattis’ charisma and prestigious military history and made the right decision.
When Trump decided to strike Assad the second time, he wanted the strikes to be strong and destructive but Mattis persuaded him to execute specific strikes that are coordinated with the Europeans. Despite the significance of these strikes to deter Assad, they were viewed as too specific and as not decisive enough; hence they were widely ridiculed. Mattis succeeded in influencing the instinctive president and making him appear with a shaky Marconian determination.
The differences between the two men also surfaced regarding ties with European allies. In terms of the Iranian file, Mattis was closer to the Europeans than Trump was. Trump’s enthusiasm to make the Europeans pay more money for the NATO budget was met by a calmer position from his defense secretary who made different remarks. It’s unlikely that Trump, or any US president, would go ahead and destroy the deeply rooted historical, political and cultural alliance between the US and Europe. The same thing applies to international institutions which the American president perceives as not playing their role and turning into useless bureaucratic apparatuses. The American president used fiery words in international forums to display this stance and afterwards Mattis poured cold water to make the picture clear and embarrassing. The crazy president and the wise secretary.
It is clear that Trump’s new team is well aware of this and agrees with the president’s ideological positions and vision of the world. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bolton stand behind the president. It is a firm stance against Iran, harsh criticism of weak international institutions and criticism of the negative European role in maintaining the stability of the international order.
Mattis gradually appeared to have a position that’s different from this basic position in general, but he chose the right circumstances to declare his split.
Mattis was portrayed by the press and left liberal currents in different roles. He was depicted as the wise man in order to show the president and the rest of his administration as hardliners and impulsive. He is the intellectual and reading addict amidst the ignorant. He is the patriotic figure among opportunists and accomplices with the Russians. He is the preacher and the priest among the capitalists and those who are thirsty for money and power.
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He is the single man with no sexual scandals amidst the deceptive married couples. He is the safety valve which the boat would sink without among the reckless and inexperienced people. As we can see, comments on his resignation on social media networks and in the press are saturated with a tone of solace and the sense of grim that precedes imminent death. Of course, all of this is false. Although Mattis’ position on Syria is correct, his stances regarding other matters were wrong. His decision to resign is right and expected because he has abandoned the approach which major features are set and defined by the president. It is actually right to replace him with a secretary who sings the same tune composed by the band leader. It’s true that Mattis is a significant figure but important figures are not infallible.
At certain times, Mattis appeared to be remorseful for his service in the Trump administration. The sharks of the democrats and the hostile press have smelled this blood and exploited the situation to attack the current administration. With every position they did not like, they launched attacks not only on Trump but also on Mattis calling on him to resign under the pretext that he was the one who granted legitimacy to this president.
In his letter of resignation, it seemed that Mattis has taken the bait and wanted atonement for his sin. His letter lacked professional prudence and he deliberately forgot to thank the president, whom he served in his administration for two years, despite the fact that he disagreed with him. He did not mention Trump but he let his shadow reflect on the resignation letter that ended the practical career of a man described as a legendary military fighter who never quite fit, as one commentator said, in the secretary’s suit.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.