Mattis resigning as Pentagon chief after Trump disagreements
By ZEKE MILLER and LOLITA BALDOR
Friday, December 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned after clashing with President Donald Trump over the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and after two years of deep disagreements over America’s role in the world.
Mattis, perhaps the most respected foreign policy official in Trump’s administration, will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years struggling to soften and moderate the president’s hardline and sometimes sharply changing policies. He told Trump in a letter that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
Mattis went to the White House on Thursday with his resignation letter in hand to meet with the president and spoke to Trump for about 45 minutes, according to a senior U.S. official familiar with the incident but speaking on conditions of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.
There was no confrontation between the two men, the official said, and there was no one issue that caused the resignation. However, the official said, Syria likely was the last straw for Mattis.
His departure was immediately lamented by foreign policy hands and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, who viewed the retired Marine general as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never held political office or served in the military. Even Trump allies expressed fear over Mattis’ decision to quit, believing him to be an important moderating force on the president.
“Just read Gen. Mattis resignation letter,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed toward a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”
Mattis did not mention the dispute over Syria in his letter or proposed deep cuts to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, another significant policy dispute. He noted his “core belief” that American strength is “inextricably linked” with the nation’s alliances with other countries, a position seemingly at odds with the “America First” policy of the president.
The defense secretary also said China and Russia want to spread their “authoritarian model” and promote their interests at the expense of America and its allies. “That is why we must use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense,” he wrote.
The announcement came a day after Trump surprised U.S. allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria, and as he continues to consider cutting in half the American deployment in Afghanistan by this summer. The news coincided with domestic turmoil as well, Trump’s fight with Congress over a border wall and a looming partial government shutdown.
Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria has been sharply criticized for abandoning America’s Kurdish allies, who may well face a Turkish assault once U.S. troops leave, and had been staunchly opposed by the Pentagon.
Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasized the importance of standing up for U.S. allies — an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.
“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.
Last year, Republican Sen. Bob Corker — a frequent Trump critic — said Mattis, along with White House chief of staff John Kelly and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were helping “separate our country from chaos.”
Tillerson was fired early this year. Kelly is to leave the White House in the coming days.
“This is scary,” reacted Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, on Twitter. “Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
“Jim Mattis did a superb job as Secretary of Defense. But he cannot be expected to stand behind a President who disrespects our allies and ingratiates himself to our adversaries,” said William Cohen, who served as defense secretary under Bill Clinton and knows Mattis well.
Mattis’ departure has long been rumored, but officials close to him have insisted that the battle-hardened retired Marine would hang on, determined to bring military calm and judgment to the administration’s often chaotic national security decisions and to soften some of Trump’s sharper tones with allies.
Opponents of Mattis, however, have seen him as an unwanted check on Trump.
Mattis went to the White House Thursday afternoon to resign after failing to persuade the president in a tense Oval Office meeting to change his decision on withdrawing troops from Syria, according to two people with knowledge of the conversation but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Another U.S. official said that Mattis’ decision was his own, and not a “forced resignation.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Trump said a replacement would be chosen soon.
“The president’s national security team’s job is to give him advice and it’s the president’s job to make a decision,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders.
At the start of the Trump administration, the president had gushed about his respect for Mattis, repeatedly calling him “Mad Dog,” despite Mattis’ own public insistence that the moniker was never his. Instead, his nickname for years was CHAOS, which stood for “Colonel Has An Outstanding Suggestion,” and reflected Mattis’ more cerebral nature.
The two quickly clashed on major policy decisions.
During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional U.S. international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticized.
Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites.” Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.
En route to his first visit to Iraq as defense secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump’s assertion that America might take Iraqi oil as compensation for U.S. efforts in the war-torn country.
The two also were divided on the future of the Afghanistan war, with Trump complaining from the first about its cost and arguing for withdrawal. Mattis and others ultimately persuaded Trump to pour additional resources and troops into the conflict to press toward a resolution.
U.S. officials say there now is active planning in the Pentagon that would pull as many as half the 14,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by summer. They say no final decision has been made.
Trump also chafed at the Pentagon’s slow response to his order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. That effort has stalled due to multiple legal challenges.
More recently, Trump bypassed Mattis’ choice for the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief, was Mattis’ top choice, but Trump chose Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of the Army.
The Pentagon has appeared to be caught off guard by a number of Trump policy declarations, often made through Twitter. Those include plans that ultimately fizzled to have a big military parade this month and the more recent decision to send thousands of active duty troops to the Southwest border.
Mattis has determinedly kept a low public profile, striving to stay out of the news and out of Trump’s line of fire.
Those close to him have repeatedly insisted that he would not quit, and would have to either be fired or die in the job. But others have noted that a two-year stint as defense chief is a normal and respectable length of service.
Born in Pullman, Washington, Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969, later earning a history degree from Central Washington University. He was commissioned as an officer in 1972. As a lieutenant colonel, he led an assault battalion into Kuwait during the first U.S. war with Iraq in 1991.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mattis commanded the Marines who launched an early amphibious assault into Afghanistan and established a U.S. foothold in the Taliban heartland. As the first wave of Marines moved toward Kandahar, Mattis declared, “The Marines have landed, and now we own a piece of Afghanistan.”
Two years later, he helped lead the invasion into Iraq in 2003 as the two-star commander of the 1st Marine Division. As a four-star, he led Central Command from 2010 until his retirement in 2013.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Robert Burns contributed.
Bolsonaro’s anger won over working-class Brazilians, but his presidency may betray them
December 21, 2018
Author: Benjamin H. Bradlow, PhD candidate, Department of Sociology, Brown University
Disclosure statement: Benjamin H. Bradlow has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and the Brazilian Studies Association.
Brazil’s next president Jair Bolsonaro, who takes power on Jan. 1, is often called the “Trump of the Tropics” for his law-and-order rhetoric, racist and sexist remarks, pro-business stances and outsider pledges to upend politics as usual.
Bolsonaro also used a Trump-style populist playbook to win the Brazilian presidency in October with 54 percent of the vote. Spreading angry anti-establishment messages, he persuaded enough disaffected working-class voters to create a victorious if unusual electoral coalition of the working class and the very rich.
Unlike in the United States, however, where Trump targeted rural Americans left behind by economic progress, Bolsonaro’s working-class supporters mostly come from Brazilian cities – particularly the poor urban outskirts.
These areas, the focus of my sociology research on cities and democracy, has been hit hard by the severe crime wave and recession gripping Brazil since 2015, leaving a pool of precarious, disaffected voters ripe for Bolsonaro’s calls for radical change.
Brazil’s ‘new middle class’
Paradoxically, many of the working-class Brazilians who voted for Bolsonaro against his progressive opponent, Fernando Haddad, had seen their quality of life improve dramatically under Haddad’s center-left Workers Party.
These biggest gains occurred under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who ran the country from 2003 to 2010. During his two terms, some 30 million poor Brazilians – 15 percent of the population – were lifted out of poverty.
As incomes rose, working-class Brazilians began attending college, flying in airplanes and buying cars – luxuries previously reserved for the rich.
Ambitious slum-upgrading programs added sanitation systems, public transportation and electricity to long-overlooked urban shantytowns. Affordable housing subsidies put more people in safe, stable homes.
Brazil was celebrated worldwide as a South American star.
Lula’s anti-poverty achievements earned his Workers Party the fierce loyalty of poorer Brazilians. They voted overwhelmingly for his re-election in 2006 and supported his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, in Brazil’s 2010 and 2014 presidential elections.
But 2018 was different.
Bolsonaro won many working-class urban neighborhoods expected to go to his Workers Party opponent, Fernando Haddad. In São Paulo’s urban periphery, for example, Bolsonaro won 17 of the 23 electoral zones that voted overwhelmingly for Rousseff in the 2010 election.
Brazil’s crime wave
How did a far-right candidate attract left-wing voters?
New research from Brazil suggests that support for Bolsonaro among poorer Brazilians was driven in large part by high urban crime.
Brazil has had one of the world’s worst homicide rates for over a decade. On average, 175 Brazilians are murdered every day.
Poor urban neighborhoods are hot spots in this national crime wave. Turf wars between rival gangs and police shootouts terrorize Brazilians daily in the slum settlements and shantytowns that surround even Brazil’s richest cities.
Even in São Paulo, where homicides have actually decreased since 1999, frequent armed robberies, particularly car jackings, have residents feeling perpetually unsafe.
Bolsonaro’s crime-fighting plan is vague but forceful. It includes instructing police to “shoot to kill,” battling gangs and using the military as law enforcement.
Experts say this hard-line approach is unlikely to reduce violence. Brazilian law enforcement is already extremely aggressive, killing more often than any other police force worldwide. And sending soldiers in to “pacify” Rio de Janeiro’s favelas in 2017 actually increased shootings.
But coming from a former army captain like Bolsonaro, many Brazilians found the law-and-order messages comforting.
Recession, crisis and a backlash
Economic troubles have also left Brazilian workers feeling endangered.
In 2015, Brazil entered a severe recession. Gross domestic product – which since 2004 had averaged around 3 percent growth every year – shrank by 3.5 percent in both 2015 and 2016.
Unemployment doubled, to over 12 percent. One in 4 working-age Brazilians suddenly became “underemployed.”
The recession, coupled with a nationwide corruption scandal that had implicated many high-ranking government officials, including Lula, created a sense of political chaos. Brazil’s crisis only deepened after the 2016 impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff’s successor – her vice president, Michel Temer – pushed through an austerity budget that gutted the social programs helping poor and working-class Brazilians.
Bolsonaro’s big promises
By January 2018, when the Brazilian presidential race began, it was clear that Brazil’s lauded “new middle class” had been hit hardest by the crisis.
Bolsonaro, who wants to reduce the government’s role in the Brazilian economy, had few economic promises for the poor – especially compared to the Workers Party’s phenomenal track record of redistributing wealth.
He made up for it by running a campaign of raw anger.
Bolsonaro pushed a narrative that Brazil’s recession was caused by corruption in the Workers Party, and he promised to clean up politics. He said criminals should die, lauded military dictatorships and proposed jailing leftists. He used racist, sexist and homophobic remarks to blame minorities and political correctness for Brazil’s decline.
Nearly 58 million voters – both rich and not-so-rich, black and white, homosexual and heterosexual – thought this bombastic authoritarian strongman might be just the man to get Brazil back on its feet.
Can Bolsonaro help the working class?
Some political analysts reckon they bet wrong, saying Bolsonaro’s policy agenda will most likely hurt Brazil’s working classes.
A plan to auction off Brazil’s state electricity and oil companies to the highest bidder, for example, may give the economy a short-term boost, but economists warn that privatization won’t make these important sectors any more efficient or innovative.
His promise to shutter the Ministry of Cities, which oversaw Brazil’s federal slum-upgrading investments under Presidents Lula and Rousseff, will hobble poorer cities. Programs for housing, sanitation and transportation infrastructure are all under threat.
But that doesn’t mean urban working class voters will abandon Bolsonaro.
After all, Trump’s approval ratings in the United States among his white working-class base have been relatively durable despite a 2017 tax reform that primarily benefited the rich and tariffs that hurt key sectors of the American economy.
Bolsonaro used the tried-and-true playbook of authoritarians worldwide to win the Brazilian presidency. The resentments of gender and race that he stoked among poorer voters may continue to flourish even if these voters’ economic prospects do not.
Mexico appears willing but unready to hold US refugees
By MARKO ALVAREZ and MARK STEVENSON
Friday, December 21
TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Mexico’s willingness to accept U.S. asylum seekers while their applications are processed appears to be yet another sign of the blooming honeymoon between leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and President Donald Trump, though it is also causing concern among officials in Mexican border cities already struggling to deal with thousands of Central American migrants.
Mexico could have simply refused, as it historically has, to accept the return of non-Mexicans. But this week’s announcement of $10.6 billion in U.S. development aid and the personal relationship between the two presidents appeared to smooth the path. It is the same relationship that helped resolve stalled negotiations on Mexico’s free trade agreement with the United States and Canada.
“Right now it’s a honeymoon, in part because even though one is on the left and the other is more to the right, they have things in common — protectionism, the anti-establishment thing, each one’s nationalism,” said Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Training.
Crespo noted Trump was getting along better with Lopez Obrador than with his conservative predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto. “Up to now it’s been a honeymoon, who knows how long it will last.”
Mexico, meanwhile, is struggling to say how it will house and protect what could become tens of thousands of Central American migrants who might wind up in its cities along the border with the United States. It is clearly not ready to shelter so many.
Tonatituh Guillen, the head Mexico’s immigration agency, said, “In the short term, the National Immigration Institute does not have the organizational capacity to operate this kind of program … the current legislation also doesn’t help us.”
Mexico is already hosting thousands of Central Americans who arrived as part of a migrant caravan in November. Those migrants were dismayed by Thursday’s announcement.
“This is bad, because every country has its sovereignty, it doesn’t have to depend on another country,” said Luis Miguel Conde, a Guatemalan who traveled to Tijuana with his wife and two children to request asylum in the U.S. “When you apply for asylum in Mexico, they don’t send you to Guatemala to wait. You wait for your application within the country’s territory.”
Tijuana is currently the most popular crossing point for asylum seekers waiting to submit claims in the United States, but the border city is already weary of housing over 7,000 migrants who arrived in the caravan in November.
The city’s police staged a raid before dawn Thursday to clear dozens of migrants who had resisted moving to a shelter farther from the border and camped out on a downtown street a few blocks from the border. Riot police loaded about 120 people onto buses to take them to the Barretal shelter, located about 14 miles (22 kilometers) from the San Ysidro border crossing. Officers arrested two dozen who refused to relocate.
“We did have to detain 24 people who refused to leave the street, and we found some who were doing illegal drugs,” Police Chief Marco Sotomayor said.
Cesar Palencia, director of migrant affairs for the city government, reacted with surprise to Thursday’s announcement by the federal government on housing asylum seekers.
“How would it be done? For how long? How many people? We don’t know what the strategy or the plan is, nor have any studies been done,” Palencia told The Associated Press. “We respect the federal government’s decision, but we would ask that it be accompanied by personnel, funding and a strategy.”
The assistant legal counsel for Mexico’s foreign relations department, Alejandro Celorio, said that there will not be any detention centers for migrants. “They will not be detained,” he said.
But Celorio did not say whether shelters, like the former Barretal concert venue in Tijuana, would be built, expanded or made more permanent — and whose money would be used to pay for such shelters.
The only strategy Mexico’s federal government has launched so far is a TV and radio “campaign against xenophobia” announced Thursday to combat suspicion and dislike of migrants.
“Migrants are not a threat, this is not an invasion,” said Alexandra Haas, the head of Mexico’s anti-discrimination agency.
The most outraged reaction came from U.S. immigration activists, but reaction on the Mexican side was muted, in part because Lopez Obrador’s administration was apparently successful in depicting the decision as a humanitarian measure to protect migrants.
“There is a segment of Mexicans who are better off and don’t feel threatened by migrants who can say this is good, we have to be humanitarian, show solidarity,” said Crespo, the analyst. “But for those (Mexicans) who are looking for a job, they perhaps won’t like this.”
All in all, it will be hard for opponents to accuse a die-hard nationalist like Lopez Obrador of being too pro-American.
“Who can stand up in congress and say: ‘You’re selling the country out,’” said Federico Estevez, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico. “He (Lopez Obrador) may absorb a cost, but it’s relatively small price to get your neck out of the noose on the immigration issue.”
“I don’t think you can find on the Mexican side much of a coherent stance against these concessions,” Estevez added. “I don’t think you have a very strong constituency on this side” in favor of the Central American migrants.
Associated Press video journalist Marko Alvarez reported this story in Tijuana and AP writer Mark Stevenson reported from Mexico City.