WASHINGTON — Media reports emerged this week that suggest that U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis may soon find himself out of a job, as President Donald Trump and his closest advisors are now “actively” discussing possible candidates to replace the Pentagon chief.
Back in late June, MintPress News reported on related concerns that Mattis would soon be the next high-profile Trump administration official to be shown the door after the firings of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As MintPress noted at the time, both McMaster and Tillerson lost their jobs because of their opposition to Trump’s aggressive Iran policy as well as his extreme pro-Israel policy, both of which have since been championed by their replacements, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo respectively.
Mattis is the last remaining high-ranking member of the Trump cabinet who has publicly opposed the President’s Iran policy, particularly the U.S.’ unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
As the administration ratchets up its aggressive policy towards Iran and Iranian influence in the Middle East, The Washington Post has now cited a senior White House official as saying that “the speculation about who replaces Mattis is now more real than ever.” The Post report also noted that many administration officials had already expected that Mattis would soon be leaving his post.
The speculation surrounding Mattis seems to have grown following the release of excerpts from a new book by journalist Bob Woodward that claims that Mattis regularly spoke ill of the president and the president’s mental capacity. Mattis has since denied those remarks, calling Woodward’s book “fiction.”
Trump rejected the report regarding Mattis’ status when speaking to reporters on Wednesday. Yet, in the case of the firings of Tillerson and McMaster, Trump had also denied reports of their imminent replacement in the weeks prior to their removal from his cabinet.
Looking for a louder war-drum beater
While the speculation surrounding the longevity of Mattis’ term as Secretary of Defense has been growing for months, such rumors have gained credibility as the Trump administration has made preparations for military escalations in Syria and elsewhere in the region — escalations that Mattis has opposed in the past.
Indeed, Mattis has opposed most of Trump’s major foreign policy initiatives, particularly the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, an agreement that Mattis had supported. Mattis had also opposed Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as he had worried that the decision would increase unrest in the region. That policy move had been directed by top Trump donor and Zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was personally involved in the firing of McMaster for his “anti-Israel” views and support for the Iran deal. Bolton, an Adelson confidante, took over McMaster’s position as National Security Adviser.
Furthermore, prior to becoming Secretary of Defense, Mattis had criticized Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, asserting that it could lead to an “apartheid state,” and had claimed that the U.S.’ pro-Israel bias had alienated the U.S. from “moderate Arabs” in the Middle East. It is unlikely that such statements – even if spoken before he became the Pentagon chief – have won him many friends among the pro-Israel stalwarts in the Trump administration or Trump’s powerful Zionist donors like Adelson.
Yet, the timing of the renewed speculation over Mattis’ departure is of particular importance in the case of Syria, as it seems increasingly likely that Trump administration may escalate its involvement in the Syrian conflict in some way, either before or during the Syrian government’s anticipated military offensive against the “rebel”-held Idlib province.
This past April, after the Trump administration accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, in an incident widely believed to have been staged, it was Mattis who pushed Trump away from a larger assault in favor of a more “thought-through” strategy in order to avoid “drawing Russia and Iran into a deeper confrontation with the United States in a country where all three have forces on the ground.” Though Mattis was successful in that aspect, his efforts to convince the President to seek congressional approval for the airstrikes undertaken were for naught.
Now, with the Trump administration primed to attack Syria yet again if even a single accusation of chemical weapons use in Idlib is made, Mattis’ efforts to push Trump away from confrontation will likely be less influential than they were a matter of months ago, especially now that Mattis has allegedly been left out of several important administration decisions since June.
Cast of hawks is circling
However, perhaps the clearest indication that Mattis will soon be shown the door are the policies of those being floated as his replacements, as they mirror the hawkish stances that Mattis has repeatedly opposed. The potential replacements for Mattis mentioned in the Post article are Iran hawks and neoconservatives: Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as well as retired General Jack Keane, who is now a national security analyst for Fox News.
Keane was cited by the Post as the most likely replacement, which should concern anyone wary of U.S. military escalation in the Middle East. A close associate of neoconservatives Fred Kagan and his wife, Victoria Nuland, Keane has championed the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Iran deal. In addition, Keane, who once called Iranians “thugs and killers” intent on “acquiring nuclear weapons,” is a strong supporter of the administration’s current aggressive Iran policy, including regime change. In the case of Syria, Keane has pushed the U.S. to directly enter the Syrian conflict and has championed attacking Syrian “ground forces,” a forceful overthrow of the Syrian government, and the establishment of a no-fly zone. He has also advocated for a permanent U.S. military presence in the country.
Furthermore, if appointed to head the Pentagon, Keane would likely support increased troop deployments to places like Afghanistan (a war he still supports) and elsewhere, given that he has been touted as the “mastermind” behind the Bush administration’s 2007 troop “surge” in Iraq. In addition, as a board member of U.S. weapons manufacturer General Dynamics and a senior advisor to Academi (the mercenary, special-ops outfit formerly known as Blackwater), Keane, if chosen, would likely unleash the full capacity of the military-industrial complex and the growing body of prominent neoconservatives in the Trump administration for war and destruction around the world.
Top Photo | U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis at the Pentagon, Wash. DC., Aug. 23, 2018. DoD | Angelita Lawrence
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.