Not wholly unrelated to the shutdown in the United States of America has been the resignation ~ barely 24 hours earlier ~ of the Secretary of Defence, a pivotal office in the architecture of governance of any country. As 2018 draws to a close and on the eve of the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s inaugural, the two developments in quick succession are a reflection on the ability of the 46th President.

If the government’s closure is embedded in fencing the Mexican frontier, the resignation of James Mattis is directly related to President Trump’s retreat from Syria. Few in the White House personify the voice of reason as the Defence Secretary did; he did during his tenure convey a sense of competence and good judgment, scarce commodities both in President Trump’s White House.

The decision to withdraw US troops from Syria is a self-defeating policy that might well benefit the nation’s enemies at the risk of abandoning its friends. Mattis was absolutely spot on in his perception that an American presence was imperative to overcome terrorists in Syria and Afghanistan, and provide the required clout to negotiate an enduring peace that has for years eluded both storm-centres.

It is America’s misfortune that it will have to make do without the services and suggestions of Mattis. Sad to reflect, the President’s style of governance translates into outrage within his cabal rather than the formulation of rational policy. In his resignation letter, Mr Mattis has verily put Mr Trump on the mat.

In a blunt message that must resonate in Washington DC’s portals of power, the outgoing Defence secretary has underlined the geopolitical reality ~ “China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model. This will entail gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security interests. In not confronting the authoritarian model, the US risks endorsing it”. This is the real rebuke to Mr Trump, who believes that “the government should emote for my base rather than perform for all”. The world ought to have no illusions about how much he is delivering.

In a word, the text of the resignation letter, crafted by the four-star Marine general, has stridently debunked Trumpist policies at home and the world. Mr Trump had said he wanted to pull back from America’s historically pivotal role in supporting the “global rules-based system”. The US has long had a sense of exceptionalism. It undeniably sought a multilateral order to exercise a controlling influence.

Previous dispensations in the White House have sought to defend this objective on the basis of democracy, the rule of law and liberal values. Mr Trump is the first President of the postwar era who does not. Instead, he expresses admiration for dictators, notably the likes of Bashar al-Assad. Mr Mattis has exposed the shambolism.