Until recently, the generals largely seen by the US political establishment and mainstream media as “the adults in the room” at the Trump White House have managed to avoid drawing attacks from the president. That is despite reports, now confirmed by Donald Trump’s chief of staff General John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis, of frequent disagreements on policy.
The two most recent generals to leave his administration have in recent days issued a stream of biting, though not overtly direct, public criticisms of the president. For Trump, that deed is always met with a response.
“Now when I start getting out [of Syria/Afghanistan] the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working. Just doing what I said I was going to do!” Trump said via Twitter on Monday.
…I campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places. Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working. Just doing what I said I was going to do!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 31, 2018
The comments came after Mattis sent a brief farewell message to the Department of Defense, echoing the sentiments expressed in his resignation letter several weeks ago.
“Our Department is proven to be at its best when the times are most difficult. So keep the faith in our country and hold fast, alongside our allies, aligned against our foes,” Mattis said, after he suggested that Trump was disloyal to US allies and lacked a “clear-eyed” understanding of threats.
Trump had earlier slammed Mattis after his resignation for his view of alliances, not for advocating a strong US presence abroad, but for not demanding more money in exchange.
Former White House chief of staff Kelly, meanwhile, suggested in an interview with the Los Angeles Times published on Sunday that his time working for Trump would be measured by what he prevented the president from doing. Some of those actions it appears the president is now forging ahead with now that the generals are out of his way.
“When I first took over, he was inclined to want to withdraw from Afghanistan,” Kelly said during the two-hour interview. “He was frustrated. It was a huge decision to make … and frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons – palace intrigue and the rest of it – when I got there.
“It’s never been: The president just wants to make a decision based on no knowledge and ignorance,” Kelly said. “You may not like his decision, but at least he was fully informed on the impact.”
Supporters of Kelly, the newspaper said, credit Kelly with persuading the president not to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move Trump had previously threatened.
Republican allies of Trump in Congress have continued to push back on recent policy decisions that appear to be at odds with every member of his cabinet who remains and the majority lawmakers in his party. Senator Lindsay Graham claimed some level of success Sunday on the issue of withdrawing troops from Syria.
Graham said after a lunch with the president, “I think we’re in a pause situation where we are re-evaluating what’s the best way to achieve the president’s objective,” suggesting that the Syria withdraw would be delayed.