As he prepares to begin his third year as the president of the world’s top superpower, Donald Trump finds himself increasingly isolated.
One by one, quietly or with some noise, the heavyweight advisers and aides who have kept his worst impulses in check are abandoning ship or being kicked out.
Belittling and oneupmanship, impulsive decisions taken without consultation and a White House seemingly in constant chaos are fuelling concern among America’s allies about a mercurial president operating largely alone.
National Security Adviser H R McMaster, White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, all former generals, had been seen by many as the steady hands advising a man who took office in January 2017 without any political, diplomatic or military experience.
McMaster is gone and Kelly and Mattis are on their way out the door.
For Mattis, the four-star Marine general who was often referred to as the last “adult in the room,” Trump’s abrupt decision this week to pull US troops out of war-torn Syria was a step too far.
The tone of his resignation letter was courteous but the underlying message of disapproval was clear and it was heard by friends and foes of the president alike and in capitals around the globe.
“This is scary,” said Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. “Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”
It wasn’t just Democrats who were expressing concern.
“This is a sad day,” said Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “Secretary Mattis was giving advice the president needs to hear.”
For Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “Mattis clearly determined that he could no longer make enough of a difference to justify remaining part of an administration he so disagreed with.”
Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief executive who was unceremoniously fired as secretary of state in March after a little over a year in the job, recently made his concerns known after months of silence about his former boss.
Trump is “pretty undisciplined,” Tillerson said, adding that he “doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things.”
The stream of departures from the Trump administration has not been met with concern from everyone — many of his hard-core supporters have long felt that some of his advisers were putting the brakes on a president who prides himself on his instincts and keeping his campaign promises at all costs.
“Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” Trump tweeted about a move which stunned many members of the coalition battling the Islamic State group. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years.”
But many political and foreign policy analysts expressed concern about the potential danger of having a president surrounded only by “yes” men.
Asked yesterday on Fox News about the near-unanimous concerned and negative reaction to Mattis’ resignation, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders brushed aside the worry and issued a reminder that it was Trump who won the presidential election.
“At the end of the day, the American people elected one person to be the commander-in-chief and to make decisions,” Sanders said. “The president listens to all of his national security team, which is a big group. He takes their advice.”
“And at the end of the day, he makes the decision,” she added. “That’s what he was elected to do.”