WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump campaigned two years ago to withdraw troops from Syria and will continue because the move is popular – even if it led to the resignations of his Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a special envoy to the region, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday.
“This is not a snap decision. And it’s not a surprise to anybody because it’s exactly what the president said he was going to do,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday.” “If a Cabinet secretary simply has such a misalignment with the president’s priorities that he cannot serve him, that is the right reason to leave.”
Mattis announced his resignation Thursday, with plans to leave at the end of February because of several policy positions where he disagreed with Trump.
“I think the relationship between these two men has been fraying,” Mulvaney said. “I think the president no longer relied on Mattis to be able to deliver the president’s vision.”
Brett McGurk, a special envoy for the global coalition to counter the Islamic State waging war across portions of Syria and Iraq, also reportedly resigned Friday over Trump’s withdrawal.
Trump noted that President Barack Obama appointed McGurk and that he was expected to leave in February, anyway.
But military officials have also voiced concerns. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was not aware of Trump’s decision until it was made public Wednesday, according to The Washington Post.
Even some congressional Republicans criticized Trump for the Syria decision. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who will lead the House Republican Conference starting in January, opposed the withdrawal as “disastrous.”
“I am deeply, deeply concerned and I oppose strongly the president’s decision apparently to withdraw troops from Syria, the apparent decision that we’re now going to be looking at withdrawing troops from Afghanistan,” Cheney told CBS’ Face the Nation. “These two decisions would be disastrous.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said senators will have to take a larger role in foreign policy after Trump’s decision on Syria.
“I think General Mattis has put his finger on where the president has views that are very, very distinct from the vast majority of Republicans and probably Democrats, elected and unelected,” Toomey said. “I think senators need to step up and reassert a bigger role for the Senate in finding our foreign policy.”
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic leader, said he was heartbroken over Mattis’ departure.
“We counted on him to be there and stop this president from his worst impulse,” Durbin told NBC’s Meet the Press.
Durbin said he was among many senators who privately sat down with Mattis and urged him to say.
“We desperately need our mature voice, your patriotism in the room when this president is making life or death decisions about national security,” Durbin said. “But it obviously reached a breaking point.”
Mulvaney said Trump believed the troop withdrawal is popular nationwide, if not in Washington.
“He recognized the fact that this is unpopular within the Beltway,” Mulvaney said. “We recognized it’s unpopular within the Defense Department. It’s very popular with ordinary American people.”