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World

How Defense Secretary Mattis' Resignation Is Being Received Abroad

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today saw a morning of alarm in Europe. That is a tweet from former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. He was responding to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Mattis' departure is rattling nerves around the world. And Bloomberg News foreign affairs editor Bobby Ghosh has been monitoring all of this global reaction. He joins us now. Welcome.

BOBBY GHOSH: Thanks, Ailsa. I'm glad to be on.

CHANG: So let's start with the Middle East, where there is just so much influx right now. What's been the reaction from there? What are leaders saying?

GHOSH: Well, the same reaction that we've seen pretty much across the globe - that people are shocked - but perhaps more so in the Middle East than anywhere else because, of course, the most immediate impact of the pullout of U.S. forces from Syria promises to be very, very destabilizing for that region. And General Mattis was seen as the only person who might - just might have been able to either slow down the withdrawal or perhaps even overturn it. And people are struggling to figure out how they should organize their security.

Israel is obviously the first in the line of fire. Without American troops, Israel becomes much more vulnerable to Iranian influence in its neighborhood. Turkey, which has a sort of mixed view on how it should respond - the first reaction was positive because Turkey sees the American forces standing between them and their enemy, which is the Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria. But at the same time, once the United States leaves, Turkey pretty much stands by itself in a contest for influence between themselves, Russia and Iran. Without the United States, Turkey is the weakest of those three.

CHANG: You mentioned that there was some faith that Mattis served as a way to slow down troop withdrawals - or maybe even reverse them. But after President Trump announced that he had overruled Mattis' advice and was going to indeed withdraw all 2,000 troops from Syria, do you think leaders in the Middle East would have had the same kind of faith in Mattis' influence within the Trump administration?

GHOSH: Well, they were clutching at straws, to be honest, I think. But they also pointed out that in the past the president has been persuaded out of these kinds of decisions before. But, no, I don't think, in their hands to their hearts, they realistically expected Mattis to be able to change the president's mind. It was more a question of hope.

CHANG: Well, now, especially in light of these troop drawdowns in Syria and Afghanistan, could Mattis' his departure affect U.S. troop presence on the Korean peninsula?

GHOSH: Well, that's the fear because the president has previously made it known that he would like to bring back almost all of America's troops from various places around the world - in the Korean peninsula, in Japan, in Europe. So all American allies and those countries are now concerned. Now that he has lived up to his own promise to bring soldiers home from Syria, they are minded of his other promises. So in that light, there is a lot of anxiety.

CHANG: So you've been monitoring the reaction since yesterday's announcement. Is there any country out there that seems pleased Mattis is leaving?

GHOSH: Yesterday, Russia's President Putin expressed satisfaction at the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. But that was before the Mattis decision.

CHANG: Right.

GHOSH: So even the countries that might be pleased - that you would think would be pleased by the president's announcements over the past 24 and 48 hours, I think are a little alarmed by the departure of General Mattis.

CHANG: Bobby Ghosh is foreign affairs editor and columnist for Bloomberg Opinion based in London. Thank you very much for joining us today.

GHOSH: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABAYOMY AFROBEAT ORQUESTRA'S "MALUNGUINHO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.