President Donald Trump had his sights on taking out Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in 2017 but was talked out of it by then-Defense Secretary James Mattis, the president comlpained to Fox & Friends on Tuesday.
Trump soured on Mattis in the latter days of his tenure as defense secretary over policy differences. Since his resignation in 2018, Mattis has become an outspoken Trump critic. His service under Trump was featured in Bob Woodward’s latest book, Rage, which was officially released today.
“Let’s f—ing kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the f—ing lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.
“Do you regret not taking him out, being that he is a mass murderer?” host Brian KiImeade asked Trump on Fox & Friends.
“I would’ve rather taken him out. I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general and I let him go,” Trump grisled in response. “He worked for Obama, he got fired by Obama also, and I thought that was maybe just a fluke and maybe they had different views, and he wanted the job very badly, I gave him the job, I didn’t like him, I fired him, and uh, he was a terrible general to me, he was a bad leader, and he wasn’t doing the job with ISIS. He was not doing the job in Syria or Iraq with respect to ISIS.”
Mattis resigned on December 21, 2018 “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” he wrote in a letter to Trump.
Woodward noted in Rage that Mattis actually did not want the job, in part because his mother hated Trump, but that he accepted it out of a sense of duty. “I work for the Constitution,” Mattis told his mother, according to Woodward’s account.
Trump then claimed he “got rid of ISIS after he was gone,” which is not true. “I did a great job on ISIS, 100 percent of the Caliphate, got rid of them,” he said,” and then boasted that he “took out Soleimani as you know, took out Al-Baghdadi, these are the two biggest terrorists. Al-Baghdadi founded ISIS. He was trying to rebuild it again after I wiped it out, and I fired him.”
Trump never “wiped out” ISIS.
The president’s next remarks were a bit disjointed, because he said that one of the aforementioned men “killed many many people,” which is either a lie or a break in his stream of consciousness, and then repeated that “Soleimani was the biggest of them all.”
Kilmeade pressed Trump again on whether he regrets not taking out Assad.
“Was it because of Russia being allied with him?” Kilmeade asked, “and do you regret not doing it?”
Trump replied that “he could have lived either way with that,” and that he “considered him certainly not a good person, but I had a shot to take him out if I wanted it but Mattis was against it. Mattis was against most of that stuff,” referring to extrajudicial assassinations.
Trump then said that Mattis “would keep you in military” but that he “didn’t know how to win, no concept as to win.”
Trump bragged about “tremendous progress since then” and that “if you look at what we’ve done with terrorists and many other terrorists also by the way that you don’t know, but with terrorists and with all, and with rebuilding the military. We have completely rebuilt the military, $2.5 trillion all made in the USA. Our soldiers are taken care of. Our vets, you look at what we’ve done at the V.A., our vets are so good. They gave a 91 percent approval rating the other day.”
Here too, Trump is making things up as he goes along. Trump has never received a 91 percent approval rating from veterans. In fact, his highest recorded approval was 57 percent, according to a 2019 Pew Survey.
Additionally, and more generally speaking, veterans are certainly not “so good.”
A 2019 report in Military Times found that “the total number of suicides among veterans has increased four of the last five years on record. From 2007 to 2017, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped almost 50 percent.”
American combat veterans are “1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely,” the survey said.
This was based on data calculated and released in 2017 by the Veterans’ Administration itself.
“Veterans do not live, work, and serve in isolation from the community, the nation, or the world,” the V.A. stated in 2017. “The issue of suicide in the U.S. also affects the veteran population.”
Trump then rambled about getting “accountability” and “all kinds of choice passed,” though he did not specify what those items were.
“Our military’s been great. They love me and I love them,” Trump gloated. “But Mattis was not a good leader. He didn’t know how to lead. He has no concept…”
At that point, Kilmeade cut Trump off to defend Mattis.
“Mister President I know you guys didn’t gel but he is a great American, and he did give a lot to the country, you know that,” a visibly irritated Kilmeade interjected. “But you guys didn’t gel.”
“Well I knew him differently,” Trump snapped. “See I knew him as a person, and I just didn’t think he did a good job. I mean, I don’t say whether he’s a good American or a bad American, but I just say he didn’t do a good job. I let him go. I told him to give me a letter and I gotta find somebody else.”
It took Trump eight months to nominate a new defense secretary.
Trump’s memory also does not align with his reported annoyance at Mattis’s letter, which reportedly took him by surprise because it was submitted two months ahead of schedule.
“When we put together a team, that’s when it happened,” Trump continued as the hosts grew became more uncomfortable. “We wiped out 100 percent of the ISIS Caliphate, and he wasn’t doing his job.”
Although he gleefully confessed to it on Tuesday, Trump had previously denied Woodward’s chronicling of events, insisting that his plans for Assad were “never even discussed.”
Trump said in the Oval Office in 2018 that he “heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States” would be mentioed in Rage. But Trump maintained, for two years, that it was “never even discussed” and that “the book is total fiction.”
Assassinating Assad “was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated and it should not have been written about in the book,” Trump said.
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.