I did as well as I could for as long as I could: Trumps former defense secretary
James Mattis offered a deeply personal look inside his decision to serve and later resign as defense secretary and warned against the current state of American politics.
Mattis, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, served as President Donald Trump’s first defense secretary but resigned in December over policy differences.
“Using every skill I had learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could,” Mattis wrote in an essay for the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution.”
The essay was from his new book “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” available on Sept. 3.
Mattis resigned just days after Trump declared he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria, a move that concerned senior State Department and Pentagon officials. They believed a withdrawal was abandoning America’s allies, who had fought to reclaim territory from the Islamic State.
“Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart,” Mattis wrote.
He also warned about what he called “political fratricide” in the nation’s capital.
“What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries,” he wrote. “It is our internal divisiveness. We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.
“On each of our coins is inscribed America’s de facto motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum’ — from many, one,” he said later. “For our experiment in democracy to survive, we must live that motto.”
Mattis said he was shocked when he received a call from Vice President-elect Mike Pence in November 2016 asking if he would meet with Trump in Bedminster, New Jersey, to discuss the defense secretary job.
The former Marine Corps general had retired from the service in 2013, after serving as the head of U.S. Central Command and was doing research at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he has since returned.
After his meeting with then president-elect, Mattis wrote, “I figured that my strong support of NATO and my dismissal of the use of torture on prisoners would have the president-elect looking for another candidate.”
But to Mattis’ surprise, he was nominated to the post — an assignment that he said he felt “prepared” to do, knowing the job “intimately” from his decades of service in the Marine Corps.
“On a personal level, I had no great desire to return to Washington, D.C,” Mattis wrote. “I drew no energy from the turmoil and politics that animate our capital. Yet I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the job’s immensities. I also felt confident that I could gain bipartisan support for the Department of Defense despite the political fratricide practiced in Washington.”
Mattis was confirmed as defense secretary in an overwhelming 98-1 vote by the U.S. Senate.
After serving for nearly two years, he resigned in December, and his deputy Patrick Shanahan stepped into the role in an acting capacity before bowing out following reports of a family history of domestic violence.
Former Army Secretary Mark Esper was formally nominated and confirmed to the job in July.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.