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Trump forces defense secretary Jim Mattis to step down two months early

Trump forces defense secretary Jim Mattis to step down two months early

Defense secretary Jim Mattis will step down as of 1 January, Donald Trumpsaid on Sunday, bringing forward his departure by nearly two months.

Trump tweeted: “I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting 1 January 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!”

Mattis announced his resignation on Thursday, in protest at the president’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. He said he would leave on 28 February. On Saturday it became known that the US envoy to the coalition against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, had also resigned over the Syria decision.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Trump was enraged by media coverage of Mattis’s resignation which portrayed it as a rebuke to him, and had thus determined to push him out earlier than planned.On Saturday night, Trump wrote of the internationally respected retired Marine Corps general: “When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship – but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had.”

Answering the charge in Mattis’s resignation letter that he did not treat American allies correctly – Kurdish forces in Syria now threatened with being left at the mercy of Turkey – Trump wrote: “Allies are very important – but not when they take advantage of US.”

He also tweeted dismissively about the highly regarded McGurk, calling him a “grandstander”.

Mattis was widely seen as a voice of reason in the Trump administration and one of few remaining figures able to restrain the president’s wilder impulses. In the veteran reporter Bob Woodward’s bestselling book fear, Mattis is depicted quietly blocking a suggestion that the US should assassinate the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He is also reported to have said that in foreign affairs, Trump shows the understanding of a 10- or 11-year-old child.

Mattis denied Woodward’s claims. The Washington Post writer stood by his reporting.

Trump was initially surrounded by generals, including now outgoing chief of staff John Kelly and his first two national security advisers, Michael Flynn, who resigned, and HR McMaster, who was forced out.

His closest national security aides are now secretary of state Mike Pompeo and adviser John Bolton, both figures more aligned with Trump’s world view and less likely to seek to divert his intentions.

Among US allies in Europe and elsewhere, Mattis’s resignation prompted widespread alarm. It was reportedly prompted by the general’s anger over Trump’s sudden decision to acquiesce to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and announce the withdrawal from Syria, against US policy and the advice of his closest staff.

Speaking to the Guardian on Saturday, Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former deputy assistant secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, said: “With adversaries, Trump’s underlying unpredictability and lack of understanding of how to use the tools of American power will now be exacerbated by the lack of much in the way of experienced and judicious foreign policy advice and implementation.

“So I think there’s added room for the kind of misjudgment and misinterpretation (on both sides) that leads small incidents to escalate into major international crisis.”

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