The US defence secretary was a voice of reason in the White House, which is left to pursue a self-defeating policy that benefits the nation’s foes while abandoning its friends
The decision of James Mattis to leave the post of US secretary of defence underscores a dismal truth about Donald Trump: that he governs just as he ran for office – as a producer of outrage rather than as a formulator of policy. Widely respected as a soldier and a diplomat, Mr Mattis had conveyed a sense of competence and good judgment in a White House plainly lacking in both. In deciding to leave, the four-star Marine general has created headlines and a sense of chaos. Unfortunately such a situation suits the volatile president. Mr Trump’s administration, like his campaign, specialises in manufacturing daily spectacles which scandalise, distract and, most importantly, polarise. The purpose is to summon the emotions of both supporters and detractors, and confirm their prejudices. The spectacle is designed to reinforce convictions about Mr Trump’s friends and enemies; it is not about policy.
Hence the president’s order to withdraw all 2,000 US troops from Syria within a month, and thousands from Afghanistan, has no rationale. It is not because Islamic State has been defeated in the Middle East. Nor is it because the job is finished in central Asia. Far from it. However, the move precipitates a crisis both at home and abroad. The United States is now prepared to abandon friends without warning. If the US does remove its troops from Syria, it will leave its allies – the Kurds – at the mercy of Turkish and Syrian forces, and embolden Russia and Iran, which have chafed at US power in the region. There may well be a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Syria, which has been mired in war for almost eight years. Similarly, Kabul’s authority rests in part on western troops. Mr Mattis rightly thought an American presence was necessary to overcome terrorists in both countries and provide the required clout to negotiate a lasting peace. Mr Trump’s foreign policy, by contrast, is a version of “hit and run” – attack enemies with overwhelming force and rush home, leaving others to clean up the mess.
Link : The Guardian view on James Mattis’s resignation: a bad day for America | Editorial