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21 Dec

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

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European ministers fearful over withdrawal of US troops from Syria and Afghanistan

US defense secretary Jim Mattis

The resignation of US defense secretary Jim Mattis prompted a response of fear and anger from European ministers. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Europe responded with a mixture of panic, disorientation and frantic steps to limit the damage after the resignation of US defence secretary James Mattis.

Mattis’s decision to quit the administration came after Donald Trump confirmed he is ending all US military operations in Syria, and amid reports he is planning to halve the US troop presence in Afghanistan.

The resignation of Mattis deprives Europe of one of its most reliable interlocutors and a firm supporter of the Nato transatlantic defence alliance.

Mattis’s resignation is seen in Europe as an alarming symbol of Trump’s determination to take personal charge of foreign policy, and the pointed reference in his resignation letter to the need to treat allies with respect will echo across a continent alienated by the president’s insults and caprice. But above all the resignation shows the depth of the foreign policy chasm between Trump and even mainstream Republicans on the US’s responsibilities to Europe and the Middle East.

UK defence and foreign office ministers, habitually inclined to keep differences with the US out of public sight, openly clashed with Trump’s decision. The UK Middle East minister Alistair Burt tweeted: “There are no vacuums in foreign policy, certainly not in the Middle East. In a fragile region every action is a catalyst for another. If allies cannot be relied upon, others are sought to take their place. Jim Mattis understood – vital any successor agrees.”

The tweet is a warning to the US that the Gulf states, as well as the Kurds, may deduce that the US pullout means its long interests may lie in allying with other more steadfast partners such as Russia or China. Russia has been increasingly active in the Middle East, and now seems certain to emerge as the victor that protected the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Other Arab countries are preparing to recognise Assad as victor by sending diplomats to Damascus.

The UK defence minister Tobias Ellwood also showered praise on Mattis, saying he was “trusted, respected and admired by friends and allies, as well as feared and revered by our foes”. He added on Twitter: “The most impressive military mind I’ve had the honour to know. Jim my friend – our world will be less safe without you.”

Ellwood had previously clashed with Trump’s assessment that Isis, or Daesh, had been defeated in Syria saying “it had morphed into something else”.

The UK ambassador to the UN and a former political director at the foreign office, Karen Pierce, also clashed with Trump, pointing out the UK air force is currently active over Syria, and the job of defeating Daesh was far from over.

Germany, the country that had most to benefit from an agreed political settlement inside Syria in terms of returning refugees, also insisted the security threat posed by Daesh was alive.

“The IS has been pushed back, but the threat is not over. There is a danger that the consequences of [Trump’s] decision could hurt the fight against the IS and endanger what has been achieved,” said German foreign minister Heiko Maas in a statement.

The sense of a profound transatlantic crisis spread across the European foreign policy establishment. Co-chair of the European council on foreign relations Carl Bildt tweeted: “A morning of alarm in Europe. Sec Def Mattis is the remaining strong bond across the Atlantic in the Trump administration. All the others are fragile at best or broken at worst.”

The French president Emmanuel Macron was discussing with allies whether a supported French presence could act as a temporary substitute for the departing American ground troops in Syria.

Attempts were also being made to discover from a chaotic Washington administration how quickly the 2,000 US troops in north-east Syria were leaving, and, separately, how speedily Turkish troops under the instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an plan to go over the border into Syria to attack what Ankara regards as Kurdish terrorist havens.

The sense of anger, edging on defiance, at Trump’s decision was clearest in Paris.

The French defence minister Florence Parly said on RTL radio “We do not share the analyses that the territorial caliphate [of Islamic State] has been annihilated. It’s an extremely grave decision, and we think the job must be finished. While the territory controlled by the caliphate is no longer what it was in 2014 … if it has been reduced to near nothing, there remains, however, a pocket where jihadists have bunkered down,” she said.

Parly also suggested that implementing the withdrawal of 2,000 US soldiers from Syria should be discussed among the allied coalition, adding that “you can’t withdraw troops from one day to another”.

Macron has invited two leaders of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to Paris to discuss how to protect the Kurds from what may now be an attack either by Daesh, Turkish forces or Syrian government forces.

“The two co-chairs of the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD) Riad Darar and Ilham Ahmed are expected in Paris,” said SDF representative Khaled Issa, referring to the political arm of the previously US-backed SDF, which has formed the backbone of the fight against IS.

France has about 1,100 troops in Iraq and Syria, providing logistics, training and heavy artillery support, as well as fighter jets. In Syria it has dozens of special forces, military advisers and some foreign office personnel.

President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Trump on Tuesday night, diplomats said.

“The military campaign against Islamic State continues,” French army spokesman Patrik Steiger told a news conference. “At this stage, the announcement by the American president has no impact on France’s ongoing participation (in the coalition).”

Even if a European force in Syria to combat Daesh and protect the Kurds proves unrealistic, underlining the lack of an independent European military capability, European politicians were fuming at the manner of Trump’s decision-making.

Neither the Syrian withdrawal nor the prospect of cutting troop numbers in Afghanistan were preceded by any serious consultation with Trump’s European allies, many of whom either have ground troops or air forces operating in both countries.

The former UK ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher said: “Storm clouds darkening”.

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Liberal group in the European parliament, said: “A victory for Russia, Iran, Turkey, Turkish proxies & the Syrian regime. Unsurprisingly, it leaves Europeans more vulnerable – and shows how wrong it is that we do not have a defence force able to help stabilise our immediate neighbourhood.”

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World Politics

United States

The secretary of defense has resigned and will step down from the role at the end of February

Jim Mattis resign letter in full. Donald Trump announced the resignation of the defense secretary on Thursday night.

Read Jim Mattis’s letter in full. Donald Trump announced the defense secretary’s resignation on Thursday night. Photograph: Jon Elswick/AP

Jim Mattis has resigned as US defense secretary, issuing a resignation letter that pulled no punches.

Mattis resigned just one day after Trump announced American troops would be brought home from Syria. Mattis was reportedly opposed to an abrupt withdrawal and urged the president on Thursday to make the move a gradual one.

In the letter, he is frank about the different approaches he and the president had on issues such as the treatment of allies and the US approach to Russia and China.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote.

Mattis said he would stay on until 28 February and would work to ensure a smooth handover to his successor. The full text of the letter is here:

Dear Mr President:

I have been privileged to serve as our country’s 26th Secretary of Defense which has allowed me to serve alongside our men and women of the Department in defense of our citizens and our ideals.

I am proud of the progress that has been made over the past two years on some of the key goals articulated in our National Defense Strategy: putting the Department on a more sound budgetary footing, improving readiness and lethality in our forces, and reforming the Department’s business practices for greater performance. Our troops continue to provide the capabilities needed to prevail in conflict and sustain strong US global influence.

One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies. Like you, I have said from the beginning that the armed forces of the United States should not be the policeman of the world. Instead, we must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances. 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9-11 attack on America. The Defeat-ISIS coalition of 74 nations is further proof.

Similarly, I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours. It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies. That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense.

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.

Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed as well as to make sure the Department’s interests are properly articulated and protected at upcoming events to include Congressional posture hearings and the NATO Defense Ministerial meeting in February. Further, that a full transition to a new Secretary of Defense occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Department.

I pledge my full effort to a smooth transition that ensures the needs and interests of the 2.15 million Service Members and 732,079 civilians receive undistracted attention of the Department at all times so that they can fulfill their critical, round-the-clock mission to protect the American people.

I very much appreciate this opportunity to serve the nation and our men and women in uniform.

Jim N Mattis

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