Defense Secretary’s resignation: Tester warns ‘chaos’ threatens national security

“Chaos” in the Trump administration threatens the nation’s security, Montana Sen. Jon Tester said late Thursday following the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“As American troops protect us from security threats across the globe, we need strong leadership in Washington that is as united as our men and women on the battlefield,” Tester said in a statement released on his official website and on social media. “Chaos in President Trump’s administration threatens our national security.

“The president must listen to his military leaders and avoid making shoot-from-the-hip decisions that put Americans and our allies in harm’s way.”

Echoing concerns expressed by politicians and foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum, Tester’s statement came after Mattis released a two-page letter outlining his split with the president over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

Tester supported Mattis’ confirmation as Defense Secretary in 2017.

“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, a retired four-star Marine general, wrote in his letter of resignation.

“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.

“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.”

Sen. Jon Tester

Mattis forcefully argued against the president’s decision a day earlier to withdraw all troops from Syria, a move considered an abandonment of Kurdish forces that have fought alongside the U.S. against ISIS.

At the same time, the withdrawal cedes critical territory to Russia and Iran.

On Thursday, Mattis wrote his letter of resignation, then went to the White House in an attempt to convince the president to reverse his decision about Syria.

The president was unmoved.

Mattis returned to the Pentagon and asked aides to distribute 50 copies of his resignation letter, according to the New York Times.

Tester’s concern about Mattis’ departure came in contrast to the reaction of Montana Sen. Steve Daines, who expressed no concern about the shakeup, but rather his appreciation for the secretary’s service.

“Thank you Secretary Mattis for your service to our nation,” Daines said via Twitter. “You have made great strides at the Pentagon ensuring that our military is ready. Our country is better for it.”

In social media posts, other senators showed various levels of concern for the secretary’s resignation.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a usually reliable advocate for Trump, issued a rare rebuke.

Sen. Steve Daines

“I believe it’s essential that the United States maintain and strengthen the post-World War II alliances that have been carefully built by leaders in both parties. We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter,” McConnell said in a statement released Thursday evening.

“So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis, who shares those clear principles, will soon depart the administration. But I am particularly distressed that he is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on these and other key aspects of America’s global leadership,” he said.

“It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense. But I urge him to select a leader who shares Secretary Mattis’ understanding of these vital principles and his total commitment to America’s service members,” McConnell said.

Below is the full text of the Defense Secretary’s resignation:

Dear Mr. President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong U.S. global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US 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. NATO’s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

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. 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.

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. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 DoD civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

Jim N. Mattis