The Trump Administration has managed to make it without a high-level firing since March, when National Security Advisor John Bolton took over from HR McMaster. But could that streak be about to end?
Defense Secretary James Mattis
According to NBC News, Defense Secretary James Mattis has been cut out of several recent high-profile administration decisions, including Trump’s final decision to pull out of the Iran deal, and the decision to call off military exercises around the Korean peninsula. Mattis reportedly learned about both decisions through a colleague and had felt “blindsided” when they were made. The decisions to circumvent the Secretary of Defense were reportedly made because Trump has become fed up with Mattis for stalling his policy decisions.
And as if the previous two incidents weren’t enough, Trump reportedly cut Mattis out of the loop when he made his decision to order the Pentagon to create a “Space Force” – a sixth branch of the military overseeing operations in space.
The two reportedly have had trouble getting along in recent months.
“They don’t really see eye to eye,” said a former senior White House official who has closely observed the relationship.
Mattis’ fall from grace contrasts with Trump’s early praise of the retired four-star general with the quotable nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis. Their relationship has reportedly shifted since the early days of the administration, when Trump would at least keep Mattis in the loop even if Mattis disagreed on Trump’s preferred course of action. However, Mattis’s fall from grace is the result of Trump blaming him for the administration’s clumsy rollout of its ruling on transgender soldiers, as well as for “talking down to him” and slow-rolling the administration’s other policies. Crucially, Mattis also opposed moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, arguing that it could heighten security problems in the Middle East.
Trump now prefers advice from Bolton – of whom Mattis disapproves – and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who until recently led the CIA. One of Mattis’s other problems is that Trump has already cleared out Tillerson and McMaster, with whom Mattis shared an early alliance. When Tillerson and Mattis would both disagree with the administration’s position, Trump in the past would focus his anger on Tillerson. That isn’t so anymore.
To be sure, Mattis has convinced the president to follow through with keeping US troops in Syria and adding to the US’s numbers in Afghanistan, but it’s difficult to imagine that this would save him. The question is, how much longer until we see another high-profile Trump administration firing?