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Jim Mattis' exit leaves Donald Trump surrounded by yes-men

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The list of former Trump officials is extensive, steadily growing – and includes many names one need not remember. But the name that will be added to the list by the end of February is arguably the most important and most consequential yet: James Mattis.

The Pentagon chief announced his impending exit in a two-page letter on Thursday on the heels of President Trump's surprising decision to pull all US forces out of Syria with immediate effect. The letter was striking for two reasons. First, it contained no nicely worded praise for Trump. And second, it made amply clear that Mattis resigned because his view of US foreign and defense policy clashes with that of Trump. Neither is surprising.

Mattis was the only cabinet member who openly and consistently resisted to lavish public praise on a needy President Trump in cabinet meetings more reminiscent of an autocracy than a democracy.

Read more: Trump's motive for Syria withdrawal remain as murky as its implementation

Michael Knigge is DW's US correpondent

Clashing views

To be clear, Mattis like anyone serving this president is complicit in many of the abhorrent policies implemented by this administration, for instance, the inhumane separation of migrant children from their parents and the travel ban. But unlike others, Mattis at least tried to mitigate or avert what he considered Trump's most ill-advised positions. Shortly after the election, but before Trump was even sworn in, Mattis publicly disagreed with Trump's pledge to bring torture back as an interrogation tool. Mattis, despite his misgivings about the Iran nuclear deal, wanted the US to remain in the pact. Mattis was also deeply skeptical about first Trump's saber-rattling vis-a-vis North Korea followed by an awkward bromance between the US president and the dictator in Pyongyang.

Mattis also disagreed with Trump's oft-expressed desire to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and Syria. The president's tweeted order to withdraw all troops from Syria on Tuesday was likely only the straw that broke the camel's back.

Finally, and crucially, Mattis clashed with Trump about the transatlantic alliance. During the presidential campaign Trump had once called NATO "obsolete," a remark he never convincingly walked back because it arguably is how he really feels about the military alliance. It is here that the contrast with Mattis could not be starker. A four-star general whose career included leading a NATO command, Mattis views the alliance as crucial and routinely relayed his support for NATO to anxious European allies.

Everything is pecuniary

Trump does not believe in enduring alliances, does not believe in shared values or the importance of history. For him, everything is purely transactional, everything is pecuniary. This sentiment clashes with Mattis' worldview that places importance on enduring partnerships and common values, which has been, broadly speaking, the traditional stance........

© Deutsche Welle