In his first television interview about his resignation, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis explained that he reached his breaking point with the Trump administration after the President decided to withdraw US troops from war-torn Syria.
The retired four-star Marine Corps general said in an interview with CBS that aired Sunday that he had intended to serve the full four years, but resigned when he determined his views were not “aligned” with President Donald Trump’s.
Mattis said he disagreed with Trump’s decision on Syria because “we need to maintain enough influence there that we don’t see the same thing that happened when we withdrew from Iraq.” He told CBS pulling out of Syria would undermine the US campaign against ISIS and would betray allies fighting alongside Americans.
“This is how I saw the strength of America – that we keep our alliances together, and keep them tight,” he said. Mattis’ stressing of the importance of maintaining alliances echoed the sentiments he expressed in his resignation letter. He also addresses such policy matters as they relate to Trump in his forthcoming book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.”
Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December, citing irreconcilable policy differences in a letter to Trump. Mattis was widely regarded as a pillar of stability within an otherwise chaotic administration, and his resignation took many in Washington by surprise.
Trump discarded advice from allies and officials with his Syria withdrawal plan. He was met with bipartisan congressional backlash, and even some of Trump’s GOP allies warned the decision was a grave mistake. Those cautioning against a rapid and immediate withdrawal included Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Mattis told CNN in February he disagreed with Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria and warned that the terror group was far from defeated.
Mattis said he was “honest and forthright” with Trump about “where it was that I was parting ways.” He said he has not spoken to Trump since he resigned. Mattis told CBS he would not “speak ill” of a sitting president, but said Trump is an “unusual President.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.