Ukraine Loses Important Ally With Mattis Departure

08 Января 2019
 

News
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was forced by US President Trump to leave his post ahead of schedule on Jan 1 after he wrote a letter of resignation criticizing Trump’s approach to foreign affairs. Mattis had previously planned to stay on until the end of February in order to attend a key NATO defense ministers’ meeting. The move that prompted Mattis’s resignation was reportedly Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw all US forces from the Syrian conflict, thus ceding control of the security situation in that country to Russia and Turkey. The US Defense Department is currently being headed by former defense industry executive Patrick Shanahan until a replacement is appointed and confirmed.

Commentary
Trump had longed viewed Mattis, who is far more popular with the US security & foreign policy establishment than the president himself, as a rival, and his departure had been rumored for several months. Mattis was a strong advocate of supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, and he visited Kyiv to attend Ukraine’s military parade and meet with President Poroshenko on Independence Day in August of this year; the news of his ouster was widely celebrated in the Russian media. Indeed, Mattis was viewed as an important check against Trump’s irresponsibility in foreign policy and his tendency to attack traditional US allies while flattering and appeasing foreign dictators. We think that Trump will try to leave the acting secretary of defense in place for as long as possible, as he sees a weakened US defense & security establishment as benefiting his own interests. This situation is significant for Ukraine because Trump can surely not be counted on to come to Ukraine’s aid in case of a security crisis, making Kyiv dependent on support from other key members of the US administration, with Mattis up to now having been the strongest link. Trump previously complained that Mattis is “sort of a Democrat”, and we would not be at all surprised to see Mattis returning to head the Pentagon again under a hypothetical Democratic administration two years from now.


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