Retired Marine Corps General Jim Mattis has refrained from criticizing President Donald Trump since resigning as Defense Secretary and is standing by his decision to remain silent, maintaining he owes the Trump administration a “duty of silence.”
The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg attempted to provoke the retired four-star Marine Corps general to lambaste the president in an interview published Thursday, but Mattis pushed back warning berating the commander in chief jeopardizes national security.
“I didn’t cook up a convenient tradition here,” he said. “You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected commander in chief. I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief there, and to further weaken him when we’re up against real threats — I mean, we could be at war on the Korean peninsula, every time they start launching something.”
“There is a period in which I owe my silence. It’s not eternal. It’s not going to be forever,” Mattis added.
Unlike former White House Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci and White House political aide Omarosa Manigault, Mattis argued former administration officials owe the duly elected president and the American people a period of silence, particularly when they voluntarily depart over opposing views.
“If you leave an administration, you owe some silence. When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country,” Mattis said.
“I know the malevolence some people feel for this country,” he continued, “and we have to give the people who are protecting us some time to carry out their duties without me adding my criticism to the cacophony that is right now so poisonous.”
Mattis served two years as Secretary of Defense and resigned December 20, 2018, submitting a resignation letter citing irreconcilable policy differences, amid disagreement over Trump’s decision to withdraw troops in Syria.
In his resignation letter, Mattis intimated his dispute with the president.
“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances,” he wrote.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Prior to Trump announcing the withdrawal, Mattis publicly declared U.S. military forces would remain in Syria to ensure Islamic States would not regroup.
Despite broad opposition from within his own military, Trump hasn’t backed down from his order to bring U.S. troops home from Syria, which now number around 1,000.
Preemptively pulling troops from Syria and abandoning U.S. allies in the region will result in an ISIS victory in the long haul, Mattis told the Atlantic.
“You’re going to have to get the next secretary of defense to lose to ISIS,” he said. “I’m not going to do it.”
Without mentioning Trump by name, Mattis implied his disagreements with former commander in chief on matters of international engagement and alliances and the global role of the U.S. are fundamentally at odds.
“I had no choice but to leave. That’s why (my resignation) letter is in the book. I want people to understand why I couldn’t stay,” he said. “I’ve been informed by four decades of experience, and I just couldn’t connect the dots anymore.”
Mattis also penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday.
“When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution,” he wrote.
Mattis’ interviews, the first he’s given since his resignation, come amid the release of his new book Call Sign Chaos. The book, an autobiography, feature accounts of his military career, spanning across leadership roles in three wars in the Middle East, which ended with his resignation as Pentagon chief under President Donald Trump.
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