ARLINGTON, Va. — With a letter offering a foreign policy critique and remaining mum on his thoughts about the commander in chief, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that he will resign at the end of February after representing the U.S. at a NATO defense ministerial.
Mattis, 68, was commander of U.S. Central Command before retiring from the Marine Corps in 2013. He is currently the longest-serving secretary in President Trump’s cabinet.
Mattis wrote that he is “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.”
He emphasized his “core belief” that America’s “strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships.”
“While the U.S. 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,” Mattis wrote, adding that doesn’t mean being “policemen of the world” but using “all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances.” He praised NATO’s commitment to fighting alongside the U.S. after 9/11.
“Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” he continued. “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.”
Mattis said it is “right for me to step down from my position” because Trump has “the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects.”
Mattis added that he chose the resignation date of Feb. 28 to allow for a smooth transition to a new secretary “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.”
He pledged to ensure in the transition that “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,” Mattis concluded.
Trump tweeted that Mattis “will be retiring, with distinction” after “tremendous progress has been made, especially with respect to the purchase of new fighting equipment.”
“General Mattis was a great help to me in getting allies and other countries to pay their share of military obligations. A new Secretary of Defense will be named shortly. I greatly thank Jim for his service!” Trump added.