JANUARY 2, 2018
President Donald Trump disparaged just-departed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at his first Cabinet meeting of the new year, criticizing management of the Afghanistan war and claiming he “essentially” fired the retired four-star general, who abruptly resigned last month.
“What’s he done for me?” Trump asked Wednesday. “How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good.”
Saying that U.S. generals have done a bad job in Afghanistan over almost two decades, Trump volunteered that “I think I would’ve been a good general, but who knows.”
Trump was exempted from the draft during the Vietnam War after a doctor determined he had bone spurs.
The attack on Mattis was a turnaround for a president who a year earlier often praised him as “Mad Dog” — a nickname the former Marine Corps general was known to dislike. In December 2017, Trump credited Mattis for progress in defeating Islamic State terrorists.
‘Thanks to Mad Dog’
“Thanks to Mad Dog Mattis that we have great military leaders. ISIS is being dealt one brutal defeat after another,” he said at a rally in Florida. A day earlier, at a White House meeting with congressional leaders, Trump called Mattis “our great military genius.”
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan took part in the Cabinet meeting. Shanahan, who spoke before Trump’s comments on the military, limited his remarks to the Pentagon’s cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security on border issues.
Mattis announced his resignation in a searing letter just before Christmas that highlighted his differences with the president over the role of American leadership and alliances. In the letter, Mattis said he would step down Feb. 28, but Trump later accelerated that to the end of the year.
The immediate reason for Mattis’s resignation was Trump’s announcement that he’s ordering U.S. troops out of Syria. “I don’t want to be in Syria,” Trump said Wednesday, saying “it’s sand and it’s death.”
But, he added, “I never said we’re getting out tomorrow.”
While White House officials have denied reports that Trump also has ordered half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan to come home, Trump made it clear he has run out of patience for what’s become the longest U.S. war.
He said that the Taliban and Islamic State terrorists are “fighting each other” in parts of Afghanistan.
He said he told the generals, “Why don’t you let them fight? Why are we getting in the middle of it?”