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Trump Tries to Take Control of Mattis Narrative

Posted by Paul McLeary on


President Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

WASHINGTON: President Trump continued to hit back at critics on Monday while doubling down on criticism of US allies, as the fallout from the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis continues to roil Washington.

A series of presidential Tweets on Christmas Eve came as the president remains isolated at the White House after cancelling plans to stay at his private resort in Florida. He said he would remain in Washington to work on the government shutdown he has embraced as a way to force movement on his long-sought border wall.

Responding to news coverage of Mattis’ resignation letter, which underscored his embrace of allies as opposed to Trump’s tense relationship with longtime partners overseas, Trump appeared to embark on what may be a campaign to undermine the retired Marine general. It would fit the pattern Trump has established with most fired advisors and cabinet members, as he has previously mocked former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and others. 

On the issues of allies, Trump Tweeted:

Disagreements between the two men have threatened to push Mattis out of the administration since the beginning, but finally became untenable last week after the president abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan, something that military leaders is now rushing to implement. to plan.

The confusion was seen clearly over the weekend as US military officials fanned out across the globe to visit deployed troops over the holidays.

“There’s all kinds of rumors swirling around,” chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford told troops in Afghanistan. “The mission you have today is the same as the mission you had yesterday.” Speaking at a small base south of Kabul, Dunford told gathered troops, “when there is something else to tell you, I’ll make sure [US commander in Afghanistan] Gen. Miller knows in real time what changes may be taking place. Right now, you’re American soldiers, you have a mission, just get after it.”

Dunford, slated to retire in October, is facing an awkward future. The president announced US Army chief of staff Gen. Mark Milley would replace Dunford in October — 10 months from now — effectively kicking off a long lame duck period for the Marine general.

Making his own holiday visit to Afghanistan, Marine commandant Gen. Robert Neller was asked by a Marine what the drawdown order from the president might mean for the mission there.

“That’s a really good question. And the honest answer is I have no idea,” Neller said according to the Wall Street Journal. Later, meeting another group of Marines, he elaborated. “I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve read the same stuff in the newspaper you did, I have a little more knowledge than that, but not a whole lot more.”

Back in Washington, the jockeying to become the next Defense Secretary is in full swing. Two Republican senators — Jodi Ernst and Mike Rounds — publicly lobbied for Air Force secretary Heather Wilson on Sunday.

 

Wilson would be a surprising choice for the president, partially as her estimates earlier this year for the cost of the Space Force — $13 billion — rankled not only the White House, but Shanahan, who pushed back, suggesting the cost of the new command would come in at less than half of that.

Wilson and Shanahan working as the top two civilians at the Pentagon would be a unique pair, as neither has much recent international experience — far less than Mattis, who led Central Command and a NATO command. Shanahan, who worked primarily with commercial jets while spending 30 years at Boeing, has rarely left the US since coming aboard at the Pentagon, as his responsibilities have revolved around managing modernization, cyber, and initiatives like the Space Force.

Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate, served on a NATO staff and the National Security Council briefly in the 1980s.

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