Yesterday President Trump announced that he was removing all US troops from Syria over the next 30 days. Today, "Mad Dog" Jim Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense and widely viewed as "the last adult in the room" among the Trump national security team, announced his resignation effective at the end of February. This is not a coincidence, although his letter makes it clear that he had been thinking about this serously for some time.
In his letter the most fundamental issue seems to be his concern for proper relations with US allies, with Trump obviously treating nearly all of them badly. So a crucial sentence is the following.
"While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies."
Later after noting that 29 democracies supported the US after the 9-11 attack as showing the importance of allies he writes:
"The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof."
Now I have mixed feelings about various pieces of this. Many of those upset by this sudden and unexpected decision by Trump are focused on Iran and Russia and Assad in Syria: that Assad will remain in power with both Russia and Iran influential there. I agree Assad is a murderous dictatorial creep, but Russia (and before it the USSR) has had a naval base there in Tartus since 1971 that they are not remotely going to give up. The Iranians are less important,so the worry about them is mostly silly huysteria. And on Assad, those most likely to replace him were radical Sunnis allied with al-Qaeda, the group that attacked the US on 9-11.
Where this gets bad involves indeed ISIS or ISIL or Daesh to give some of its other names. They really are a bad bunch, worse even than al Qaeda from whom they split. Trump says we can leave because they have been defeated, but they have not been defeated. They have been pushed out of all urban areas of any size they once controlled, but they continue to hold out in a final desert area on the Iraqi border in the desert, and for whatever reason nobody has been able to finally defeat them. I fear withdrawal of US troops at this point, likely to be followed by a Turkish invasion to push out the Kurdish forces allied to the US that defeated ISIS in their old capital of Raqqa, will allow the obviously still pretty strong ISIS to revive and retake some of their former territories. I suspect this is also a concern of Mad Dog Mattis.
Anyway, aside from the Turks signing a $3 billion Patriot missile deal after Trump made this announcement, this decision seems to be completely incoherent. The US is against Iran, but Iran gains, not to mention Hezbollah? That Trump may be pleasing Putin, well, what do we expect? And as for the Kurds? Well, we have screwed them over many times. No wonder the Mad Dog is walking out.