The Yomiuri Shimbun
There will be a loss of a presence that has continued to put the brakes on nearsighted decisions by U.S. President Donald Trump while attaching importance to relations with allies. There are inevitable concerns about a possible increase in the turmoil surrounding the U.S. administration’s security policy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has announced he will step down at the end of next February. In a letter to Trump, Mattis said, “You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects,” showing there were differences in opinion between the two over U.S. diplomatic and security policies.
The immediate reason for his announced resignation was a conflict over U.S. policy toward Syria.
On Wednesday, Trump announced the completion of a campaign to wipe out the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group, saying U.S. forces stationed in Syria would be withdrawn. Mattis is said to have urged Trump to change his mind, but the defense secretary’s view was not accepted.
Mattis’ decision to resign seems to indicate that he recognized the unbridgeable rift in their opinions and the limits of his influence as the Trump administration’s emergency brake.
In Syria, ISIL has been nearly defeated in an offensive carried out by the U.S. and Kurdish forces, but remnants of the group are still scattered around. There are concerns that they could exploit the gap created by a withdrawal of U.S. forces and attempt to revive their group.
There is no doubt that Russia and Iran, both of which back the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad, will expand their influence on Syria by taking advantage of a U.S withdrawal.
Avoid repeat of past mistake
The situation is preceded by the circumstances in which the United States hastily withdrew its forces from Iraq during the days of former President Barack Obama’s administration, thereby resulting in the emergence of the ISIL group — after which U.S. forces were sent back to that nation. If Trump places priority on appealing to his supporters without closely examining the Syrian situation, he could repeat the same mistake.
Trump is also said to be considering a large-scale cutback in U.S. forces stationed in Afghanistan, where there have been continued terrorist attacks by Taliban forces, which used to control the country.
The problem is that Trump only regards the stationing of U.S. soldiers overseas as a burden, and does not understand the role of such a U.S. presence in stabilizing the situation in each region and defending his own country and its allies.
There is also no overlooking Trump’s approach of unilaterally making decisions about such important issues as the pullout of U.S. soldiers while making no close coordination with relevant government offices, U.S. allies and the nations concerned.
John Kelly, Trump’s White House chief of staff, is also set to resign at the end of the month. As a retired U.S. Marine Corps general, Kelly, like Mattis, has continued to advocate that the U.S.-led alliance is underpinning international order.
There are concerns that getting rid of all high-ranking officials who give Trump candid advice will further reinforce a system in which he makes decisions without consulting others, thereby making his “America First” policy even more acute.
Even one false step in the handling of diplomatic and security policies could lead to such a grave consequence as a military clash or war. Trump must recognize his responsibility as supreme commander and facilitate a setup for devising and promoting a solid strategy.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2018)