Angry, isolated Donald Trump spent much of the weekend holed up in the White House residence, watching Fox TV and seething over news coverage of both the government shutdown he forced and details of the resignation letter of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Mattis, a Marine Corps. general, dressed down Trump in the letter and made it clear that he could no longer serve a president who ignored the advice of professionals and governed by sudden impulse and Twitter tweets.
“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,” he wrote.
Mattis set his date to leave the job at the end of February to “make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Ministerial meeting in February.”
Trump’s anger grew as the glared at the TV screens and decided to fire Mattis — who had already quit — by the end of the year, appointing defense deputy Patrick Shanahan as acting chief, effective Jan. 1.
Shanahan had no military or government experience when he became deputy defense chief.
The move brings fresh instability to the Pentagon as it manages Trump’s sudden decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who has been Mattis’s deputy at the Pentagon, will assume the top job in an acting capacity beginning Jan. 1. But a senior administration official said Trump plans to conduct a wide-ranging search for a permanent replacement and is interested in candidates from outside the administration.
Trump decided hastily to remove Mattis in reaction to negative news coverage, according to senior administration officials, one of whom said the president was eager to retaliate against Mattis and show up the widely respected former general. Another official said Trump and other advisers suspected Mattis of being part of a campaign to stoke negative coverage about the president.
About the kind of impulsive behavior we have come to expect from Trump. He praised Mattis in a glowing tweet on Thursday, saying he retired “with distinction.”
Trump, White House sources say, never actually read Mattis’s letter and did not see the outgoing Defense Secretary’s pointed rebuke of the president’s neglect of allies and tolerances of authoritarians like Vladimir Putin.
His anger grew as defense analysts appeared on TV talk shows over the weekend to praise Mattis’s bravery and ability to keep Trump under control during much of his tenure as defense chief.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive best known for engineering purchases of expensive weapons the military services never wanted or supported (primarily from his former longtime employer), is “very talented” and “will be great,” Trump said.
Trump’s latest action brought sharp responses from America’s allies, many of them victims of his angry tirades and lack of respect.
“And now Trump gets rid of SecDef Mattis almost immediately. No smooth transition. No effort at reassurance to allies. Just vindictive,” Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden, said on Twitter.
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