Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation Thursday — and President Donald Trump’s retaliatory swifter removal Sunday — raised concerns as to whether anyone could now serve as a check on the president.
“I was at the airport yesterday,” said former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who served under President Barack Obama. “I had five different people recognize me, came up to me, all private citizens all doing different things in their lives, not attached to government or politics at all. They are all very much afraid and asking the question … is there nothing to stop this guy?”
“That feeling is pretty strong across the country and is legitimate,” Hagel said.
From an institutional perspective, Congress is that check through its responsibilities for oversight and budget. The withdrawal of troops from Syria, however, which was reportedly the basis for Mattis’ departure, and the drawdown from Afghanistan, which is popular among Trump’s base and among many troops and veterans who have questioned the need to continue the now 17-year war — Trump will not need congressional approval to execute both maneuvers, said Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.