President Trump said Wednesday that he “essentially” fired former secretary of defense James Mattis due to Mattis’s failure to effectively implement the administration’s foreign-policy agenda.
“What’s he done for me? How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good,” Trump said Wednesday during his first cabinet meeting of the new year, according to the White House press-pool report. “As you know, President Obama fired him, and essentially so did I.”
Mattis tendered his resignation in a letter to the president on December 20, attributing his departure to the many irreconcilable differences between his view of America’s role in the world and Trump’s.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Mattis wrote. “We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”
While he refrained from publicly criticizing the direction of Trump’s foreign policy, Mattis reportedly clashed frequently with the president over his treatment of America’s NATO allies, whom the president has repeatedly denigrated for failing to contribute their fair share of resources to the common defense.
Although Mattis offered to remain in his role until the end of February to facilitate a smooth transition, Trump, reportedly angered by the criticisms in Mattis’s resignation letter, announced that Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would assume his responsibilities effective January 1.
Mattis drafted the letter after trying and failing to convince Trump to reverse his decision to immediately withdraw American troops from Syria. The decision to resign also came as reports emerged that Pentagon officials are preparing to withdraw roughly half of the 13,000 troops remaining in Afghanistan — a decision Mattis also reportedly opposed.