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General Jack Keane, Former Colleague Of Mattis, Discusses The General's Resignation


Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has resigned. His tenure has been marked with a long string of disagreements with the president. In his resignation letter, Mattis laid out one of his core beliefs that America's strength lies in its alliances and partnerships with other countries, something he noted during his confirmation hearing last year.


JIM MATTIS: History is clear. Nations with strong allies thrive, and those without them wither.

KELLY: We turn now to someone who is close to Mattis, retired Army General Jack Keane. General, thanks for joining me.

JACK KEANE: I'm delighted to be here.

KELLY: Have you talked to General Mattis today?

KEANE: Not today. I spoke to him yesterday. We were both going over the Syria decision that the president had made, and we were of one mind in opposing that decision. But I know I - I'll catch up to him. I sent him a brief email telling him how much I appreciate what he's done for the American people.

KELLY: Without wanting to pry into a private conversation, had he made up his mind yesterday that he needed to go?

KEANE: I don't think so. I think he would have told me if he had. I'm not - I'll know eventually in a day or so what really were the factors. But I would assume in thinking about it that the decisions on Syria and Afghanistan in terms of withdrawing our forces and the strategic implications that both of those events would have would be factors.

KELLY: You're talking about...

KEANE: I also - I mean, I...

KELLY: Go on.

KEANE: I mean, it's normal, I think, at times for principal cabinet officers to have disagreements with the president. But I think it may be - and I'm speculating here - you may get to a point where you just come to the conclusion you're no longer on the same page. And it would be better for someone else to come in that is more able to support the president's agenda completely.

KELLY: You said no longer on the same page, but we could look back to clear policy disagreements between the President and General Mattis going back almost to the beginning of this administration, decisions to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal that General Mattis opposed and things like that. Why do you think Syria and maybe this announcement of a troop drawdown in Afghanistan that may be coming - that those were the final breaking points for him?

KEANE: Well, I think it's probably, like you said, a pattern of things. Also, there's something else that may have been a factor, is he had recommended a different chairman of the Joint Chiefs than who the president selected. And that's pretty unusual for a secretary of defense not to - for his...

KELLY: To get overruled, yeah.

KEANE: ...Recommendation to be turned - yeah.

KELLY: Yeah.

KEANE: For his recommendation to be turned down for a chairman, and particularly one in, you know, unusual circumstances. We've only had this twice in our history where we have a retired military officer as the secretary of defense and likely is privileged to know the senior generals maybe more in-depth than what a normal secretary of defense would.

KELLY: The president liked to refer to Mattis as Mad Dog, Mad Dog Mattis. Is it true that Mattis really hated that nickname?

KEANE: Well, he - he's not a mad dog. He's a studious, deliberate person and very contemplative. And he - it's not that he doesn't speak his mind very strongly. He does. You always know where he stands. But that's a name his soldiers gave to him. A term of endearment is what it really is. And it's just - it sort of stuck.

KELLY: After the election - if I'm correct - President Trump offered you the Sec Def job first. You declined. You recommended Mattis. I gather you're ruling yourself out for whoever's going to succeed him?

KEANE: Yes. I don't intend to go back in the public service. And I'm confident the president will be able to find a capable person to serve the nation. I...

KELLY: General Keane, thank you. That's retired Army General Jack Keane. Thanks so much for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.