The resignation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is putting our nation at risk, two top former defense and national security leaders say.
To lose Mattis “increases the danger in this country,” not only because the retired four-star general brought valuable experience to the role, but also because of his belief in some long-standing tenets of American foreign policy, said Leon Panetta, who served as secretary of defense and CIA director during the Obama administration.
In his resignation letter, Mattis pointed to the fact that he and President Donald Trump could not agree on several foreign policy and national security issues.
Richard Haass, the director of policy planning at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, said that is in some ways even more concerning than Mattis’ departure itself because it’s not clear whether the president will take the advice of whoever serves as secretary of defense next.
“Even if someone were to espouse [Mattis’ point of view] … this president simply is not going to listen,” said Haass, now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Other highlights from the interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff
- Did Mattis make a difference? Panetta said Mattis felt he had a responsibility to make sure “the administration walked in the right path,” even “understanding that he had an erratic president and somebody that was unpredictable,” But Panetta said he also believes that Mattis knew there would be a point at which he was asked to cross a line — and that came this week in the decision to withdraw from Syria, “without consultation, without talking to our allies, without really spending time with his key advisers.”
- America’s reputation at risk. After Trump’s decision on Syria, “why would any American ally, why would any country dependent on America, somehow believe that something like this couldn’t happen to them?” Haass asked. “We’ve shredded our relationship for reliability and dependability and that might be the biggest consequence of the last few days.
- “The President is increasingly the problem,” Haass said. But “there’s very little we can do to rein him in.”
- What can be done now? It’s “going to take a recognition by this president that he can’t simply tweet his way to foreign policy and national security decisions. He can’t just stand back without talking to anybody and decide what he thinks is in the interests of the country. He’s going to have to be more responsible,” Panetta said. Haass added that other people — including those in Congress — would have to step forward to be a check on the president’s decision making.