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Mattis Says U.S. Is Dividing Into ‘Hostile Tribes’ and Defends Importance of Allies

WASHINGTON — Jim Mattis, who resigned last year as defense secretary, implicitly criticized the Trump administration in an op-ed published Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, writing that the current political climate was dividing the country into “hostile tribes” and driving away longtime allies.

The essay is an excerpt from Mr. Mattis’s book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,” which will be published Sept. 3 by Random House. While most of it is a reflection on leadership and public service, the essay delivers a harsher rebuke to the president’s leadership style than what Mr. Mattis initially penned in his resignation letter in December 2018.

“A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader,” wrote Mr. Mattis, who served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and rose to the rank of four-star general. “A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed.”

Mr. Mattis stepped down after pointing to the divide between him and Mr. Trump when it came to respecting and understanding international alliances and because of the president’s decision to announce a hasty withdrawal from Syria.

“When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time to resign, despite the limitless joy I felt serving alongside our troops in defense of our Constitution,” Mr. Mattis wrote.

The essay describes the early discussions with Mr. Trump, then president-elect, that led Mr. Mattis to return to the Pentagon as defense secretary. But words of critique in the excerpt are carefully phrased and never blame the president by name.

“What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness,” Mr. Mattis wrote in the excerpt. “We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions.”

He added that “all Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment — and one that can be reversed. We all know that we’re better than our current politics. Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.”


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