WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis had planned to be en route today to Iraq, Afghanistan and others points in the world, part of a holiday swing to visit troops in the scattered outposts where U.S. battle flags fly.
It is the future of those military personnel — the unilateral yanking of them from war zones by President Donald Trump — that led Mattis to seek a White House meeting on Thursday to discuss the decision that was strongly opposed by the Pentagon.
For more than 30 minutes Mattis met with Trump and when the president said no to Mattis on changing the policy, Mattis said no to him. He reached in his suit jacket pocket and handed Trump a two-page resignation letter, those with knowledge of the meeting told TMN on background.
The president was surprised. Mattis stood and departed, those with knowledge of the meeting told TMN on background.
The letter had been written and finalized before Mattis went to the White House around 3 p.m. Dozens of copies had been printed at the Pentagon and sat on Mattis’ desk. Pentagon reporters were advised to stick around because there may be “something.”
On Friday, in the Twilight Zone of the Pentagon, emergency meetings among staffers were held during the morning and talk of more resignations flowed through the hallways and around the desks.
As for Mattis, he was spotted several times walking the halls of the Pentagon, his normal routine. At one point he was outside his third-floor office, talking with his folks from congressional affairs, intelligence and others.
Asked by reporters how he slept last night, Mattis said, “I always sleep well.”
Departures were the trigger word of the days.
First, it was the up to 3,000 U.S. forces in Syria, mostly special forces, who Trump said would be out within weeks. That was followed by the announcement that any State Department personnel in Syria had to be out within 48 hours.
Next was Afghanistan. The White House ordered the Pentagon to devise a plan to reduce the 14,000 U.S. military footprint there by at least half by summer 2019.
The message to the on-the-ground foes in both locations: Wait for the U.S. to leave.
This holiday season, no troops are likely to be visited by Mattis. And of course, nor by the president.