Retired three-star General Carmen Cavezza has watched as the nation’s secretary of defense resigned this week, apparently over President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
“Frankly, from where I sit, I would not pull out of Syria — but I don’t know what I don’t know,” Cavezza said.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned on Thursday after a meeting with the president.
“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,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter. “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.”
Cavezza, who commanded Fort Benning and Fort Lewis, does not know Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general. But he knows him by reputation.
“He’s got a tremendous reputation,” Cavezza said.
Mattis is in a position where he is obligated to say what he thinks, Cavezza said.
“You have your morals and your own integrity to deal with,” Cavezza said. “And if you don’t think it’s right, I don’t see how you can support it.”
Resigning is Mattis’ prerogative, Cavezza said.
“What is his conscience telling him?” Cavezza said. “How does he feel about it? How would anyone feel if you are working for someone you can’t support? It’s hard to work for him, be loyal and participate as fully as you want to. You got to make a decision. Every individual has got to make his or her own decision.”
Mattis is the second former high-ranking military officer to leave the Trump cabinet in recent weeks. Retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly resigned as Trump’s chief of staff.
“It troubles me only in the fact that he has lost some good people,” Cavezza said. “The chief of staff, from where I stand having been a chief of staff in the Pentagon, that’s not an easy job even at that level. You can imagine what it is at the White House level. … That’s a big loss.”
Trump’s support of Mattis gave the secretary of defense more credibility, Cavezza said.
“He really played him up. He really praised him,” Cavezza said. “Talked about his credentials and all. Obviously, that’s a big loss when that kind of individual leaves the administration.”