Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Paul Rieckhoff told CNN on Thursday that James Mattis has acted repeatedly to block many of President Donald Trump's worst ideas, and that his departure has devastated the morale of the U.S. military.
"I have never seen a more popular leader among the modern military, period. He's more popular than George Washington," said Rieckhoff. "Mattis is another world in terms of his trust and reverence within the military. This is reverberating around the active duty and veterans community." He noted that the defense secretary had an approval rating of "close to 90% among the officers", compared Trump's 45% rating.
"There is no one who speaks for all troops or all veterans, but Mattis is very close. This is a guy who is an icon, He's kind of a grandfatherly figure, a warrior poet," Rieckhoff. "There are shrines to Mattis in combat zones. It's very important we understand what Mattis is saying here: the president is not listening to him, and in many ways, he's not listening to the military."
Berman pointed out that Trump was bringing the troops home, one of the IAVA's main goals, but Rieckhoff was having none of it.
"If you look at the cumulative situation, our military needs stability. Mattis has been this block on everything from the parade to the trans ban to Syria to Afghanistan," he said. "Everybody is concerned with him out of the way to protect us from the politics, that includes especially Syria and Afghanistan. We are at war right now, and we need a steady hand controlling our military and leading us."
Riekhoff also took a moment to slam Trump for invoking fallen troops to justify withdrawing from Syria.
"It was the most disgusting politicization of our military I have ever seen. It undoubtedly outraged Mattis," he said, saying the video had been shared throughout the military. "That's what folks are very concerned about with Mattis gone: who is going to protect us from the politics. That's what America needs to be asking now.