President Donald Trump assailed former Defense Secretary James Mattis as a “terrible general” who opposed the president’s desire to kill Syrian president Bashar Assad, despite having “a shot” to do so.
“I would have rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it,” Trump said in a Tuesday interview on Fox & Friends. “Mattis was a highly overrated general, and I I let him go.
“He worked for Obama, and he got fired by Obama also and I thought that was maybe just a fluke, maybe they had different views and he wanted the job very badly,” Trump added. “I gave him the job. I didn’t like him, I fired him and he was a terrible — to me— he was a terrible general and a bad leader and he wasn’t doing the job with ISIS. He was not doing the job, in Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS.”
The retired Marine Corps general served as Trump’s Defense secretary from 2017-19. He also served for three years as CENTCOM commander under President Barack Obama, but left due to disagreements over how to handle Iran and troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, which he believed Obama had initiated prematurely.
His disagreements with with Trump were even more pronounced. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed in his new book about the Trump administration, Rage, that Mattis contemplated taking “collective action” against Trump during tensions with North Korea, allegedly telling Office of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats that he believed Trump was “dangerous” and “unfit” for office.
Trump’s Tuesday comments on Mattis came in response to a description in Woodward’s book of a conversation Trump held with Mattis on the topic of Syria. “Let’s f—ing kill him!” Woodward described Trump telling Mattis over the telephone. “Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them.”
“Mattis told the president that he would get right on it,” Woodward wrote. “But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: ‘We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.’ The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.”