Disgraced by the White House, the head of the Pentagon is throwing in the towel. That is understandable, but he is leaving a sizable, frightening void in national and international security. It is new proof of Donald Trump’s dangerous incompetence.
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, has now decided to withdraw a significant number of soldiers from Afghanistan, an American official told the AFP on Thursday. He is withdrawing around half of the 14,000 soldiers, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. This comes just after the announcement that the troops stationed in Syria will be withdrawn, an announcement that drove Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign on Thursday, Dec. 20.
Trump made this decision on Tuesday, Dec. 18, a decision that many observers interpret as a desire to save money. That was the same day that the Pentagon announced its intentions regarding the Syrian front.
It now seems clear that these two decisions – which were made unilaterally by the White House despite objections from most of the administration and advisers to the president – are likely to have major geopolitical consequences in the regions involved. Mattis, according to France 24, “recently warned that abandoning the Kurds [in Syria] would impede future American efforts to win the trust of local combatants needed to fight terrorism.” Pulling out of Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia would have the same effect. The media are speaking simply of a catastrophe.
In this explosive context, we can read in the Courrier International that the fact that “Mattis is slamming the Pentagon’s door” behind him worries the American press like never before, because “this respected figure incarnated a form of stability” and was an “adult” interlocutor.
“Mattis saw it up close,” writes The Atlantic. He saw that when it comes to matters of foreign policy, “Donald Trump is not even a little bit concerned about cooperation and relationships.” “He bore it as long as he could, in hopes of mitigating the damage. But when Trump broke America’s promise to the Syrian Kurds, he stained Mattis’ honor, too. That, apparently, Mattis could not accept,” just as he could not accept a possible withdrawal of some of the troops in Afghanistan.
The announcement of his resignation shocked Pentagon officials, according to The New York Times. The news evoked disappointment, sadness and even fear just as much on the Democratic side as on the Republican, noted CNN. Mattis’s “departure will leave a sizeable void in the administration’s national security apparatus and, more significantly, point to the potential for chaos in the months ahead,” added The Washington Post.
An American withdrawal would also be a gift to Vladimir Putin as well as Iran, but it would be very bad news for everyone else. “It’s not hard to wonder whether Mr. Trump is once again announcing a dramatic step as a way of deflecting attention from bad news [about him],” The New York Times surmised in a Dec. 19 editorial reprinted in the Courrier International. “It was less than three months ago that John Bolton, the national security advisor, declared an expanded objective for American troops in Syria. The goal [was] not just defeating the Islamic State, but also ensuring that Iranian forces leave the country, he told reporters in what seemed like an authoritative statement of official policy.”
“Only, as is so often the case with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, it apparently wasn’t,” the Times wrote. Because he made an “abrupt and dangerous decision, detached from any broader strategic context or any public rationale, [he] sowed new uncertainty about America’s commitment to the Middle East, its willingness to be a global leader.”