GOP Leader McConnell 'Distressed' Over Mattis' Departure From Trump Administration

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he is "distressed" by the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who is stepping down from his post over differences with President Donald Trump on Syria and other national security policies.

Mattis resigned earlier Thursday after failing to dissuade Trump against withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, where more than 2,000 American troops are backing Kurdish militia in the fight against the Islamic State.

In a blunt rebuke of the president, Mattis said he believed in "treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors" and that Trump deserved a deserved a defense secretary "whose views are better aligned with yours."

McConnell echoed Mattis' comments in his own statement, saying that it's "essential" that Washington maintain its post-WWII alliances and confront its adversaries, particularly Russia.

"We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes, and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter," he said in a thinly veiled criticism of Trump's outreach to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump's sudden decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Syria within 30 days has rankled senior military officials and commentators in the foreign policy establishment. Some have argued that leaving Syria will strengthen Russia, which is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's strongest ally, and open the door for a resurgence of ISIS.

In April, Mattis was one of several national security aides who persuaded Trump to maintain a long-term military presence in Syria when the president suggested publicly that he would order U.S. troops home as soon as ISIS was defeated But Trump, who has long been critical of Washington's indefinite military commitments in the Middle East, ultimately disregarded his defense secretary's counsel.

Despite those unbridgeable differences, McConnell said Thursday he hoped Trump nominate a replacement who supports Mattis' policy views.

"It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense," McConnell wrote. "But I urge him to select a leader who shares Secretary Mattis's understanding of these vital principles and his total commitment to America's servicemembers."