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Congress Taken Aback By Mattis Resignation; Official: U.S. Could Cut Troops In Afghanistan By Half; U.S. Lawmakers Scramble To Avert Govt. Shutdown; Gatwick Airport Resumes Service After 32 Hour Shutdown; U.S. Charges Chinese Nationals With Hacking Trade Secrets; Mattis Resigns over Policy Disputes with Trump; Syria Decision Backlash; U.S. Tariffs Could Make Toys More Expensive for Americans; Afghan Refugees Celebrate First Christmas in U.S. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 21, 2018 - 01:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:00:00] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Washington in shock as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns citing policy differences with President Trump, reportedly at the heart of it all, the coming withdrawal from Syria. His resignation came just one hour after we learned Mr. Trump wants the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan as well. We'll report why critics say the President's decisions could have a costly human toll.

And after drone sightings on the runway calls nearly 24 hours of brown stop at London's Gatwick Airport, things are finally going to get moving again. We'll have the latest on this developing story. Hello everyone, this is CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for joining us. I'm Natalie Allen.

And we begin with a surprise resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. While he and the U.S. President disagreed on many issues, the catalyst appears to be Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. President Trump announced Mattis's departure on Twitter saying the former Marine Corps general would leave at the end of February.

According to a senior U.S. official, Mattis vehemently opposed Mr. Trump's Syria decision and what we now know is an order to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan as well. Mattis tried to change the President's mind apparently but failed. A key passage from his resignation letter reads, "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." Congressional leaders were taken aback by the announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I'm shaken by the news because of the Patriot that general -- Secretary Mattis is. I think that everybody in the country should read his letter of resignation. It's a letter of great patriotism, great respect for the president, but also a statement of his values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said this in a statement. We must also maintain a clear-eyed understanding of our friends and foes and recognize that nations like Russia are among the latter. So I was sorry to learn that Secretary Mattis who shares those clear principles will soon depart the administration.

The Mattis resignation comes as we learned the U.S. military has been ordered to plan withdrawing about 7,000 troops from Afghanistan. That's about half of all U.S. troops stationed there. The decision was reportedly made on Tuesday the same day President Trump decided on the Syria exit. So we want to explore this story as well. CNN's Ivan Watson is in Hong Kong following for it. And Ivan, what could this mean to Afghanistan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, a spokesman for the Afghan president tell CNN that the government there had not previously discussed a troop withdrawal with the U.S. and at this time is not prepared to do to respond to any reports of a troop withdrawal. We're also reaching out to the Taliban to hear how they would respond to the reports that the U.S. would cut its troops in Afghanistan in half to hear how they would, of course, react to that.

Now, the fact is that this is America's longest-running foreign war going on for some 17 years. It is not going well, Natalie. The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently said that some 29,000 Afghan soldiers and police had been killed in the conflict since 2015. That's a staggering death toll, if you also take into consideration the toll that it's had on the civilian population in Afghanistan as well. Senior American military commanders including the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford have called it a stalemate and yet earlier this month that same general also said that he did not recommend for the reduction of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH DUNFORD, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF: I have not recommended that we leave Afghanistan because again in my judgment, leaving Afghanistan not only would create instability in South Asia but in my judgment would give terrorist groups the space within which the planet conduct operations against the American people, the homeland, and our allies. And that really is the problem we're trying to solve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Now, two days before General Dunford gave that speech, the Trump appointee to run Central Command Lieutenant General Frank McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he also was not aware of any plans to draw it down U.S. troop and added that the Afghan forces would not be able to defend the country if the U.S. precipitously withdrew from Afghanistan. That said, there has been a push from the White House from its Special

Envoy to Afghanistan for negotiation between the Afghan government, the Taliban, and countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. So that diplomatic effort has been underway.

[01:05:37] There's an added complication here. The U.S. is part of a NATO multilateral military operation in Afghanistan, some 41 NATO contributing countries have troops in the country. So if the U.S. which makes up the bulk of those forces unilaterally withdraws, it is a complicating factor for the other NATO allies that have troops also on the ground in Afghanistan. Natalie?

ALLEN: And I'm sure those allies will be having something to say as they have just learned about this announcement from the Trump administration. Ivan Watson, thanks, Ivan. Let's bring in now CNN Military Affairs -- excuse me, CNN Military Analyst retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton in Washington. Colonel Layton, thank you for talking with us on this issue that has really captivated the United States and around the world where we have so many interests.

The sudden resignation by the Secretary of Defense certainly caught many by surprise and we're learning the President's decision to withdraw troops from Syria probably sparked the decision and now we learned the President is pulling back troops from Afghanistan. how critical are these issues and Mattis departure?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think both Natalie are fundamental to the security not only of the United States but also for the entire world. You know when you look at Syria for example. And you look at there are all the players that are there. You look at the Assad regime, the Kurds, the Turks, Iraqis, the ISIS forces, the remnants of those, the various elements in Syria, the Syrian democratic forces, all of these different players not to mention Israel and Jordan are really going to be affected by everything that happens with the Mattis resignation.

When you look at Afghanistan, of course as Ivan Watson correctly pointed out, this is America's longest war. And the very idea of reducing our troop presence there is something that not only should be done in concert with the Afghans but it also should be done if it is done at all in concert with our NATO allies. And when you look at the way in which General Mattis, Secretary Mattis wrote his letter of resignation, it's very clear that he favors an alliance system and he holds great deal of stalking alliances that is something very different from the way the administration handles this.

ALLEN: Right. Because this president has all been about America first. We go it alone, you know. And now to hear from this a very seasoned and skilled leader that those alliances contribute to our safety in the world safety makes you wonder why the President made this decision and went it seems against his Secretary of Defense.

The President said the reason he was pulling troops out of Syria is Isis has been defeated there. What do you think about that reasoning?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think that reasoning is faulty because first of all Isis has not been completely defeated. I mean, where is al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis? We don't know that yet. And anytime you look at a group like Isis, you have to be very clear-headed about it because you have to understand that these groups, yes, they can control territory but sometimes it's the areas that they don't appear to control that are actually the important ones because that's where the sleeper cells are. That's where their hidden presence is.

And we have not destroyed the hidden presence of Isis either in Syria or in Iraq. And that's really critical here because a failure to do that, a failure to destroy that hidden presence and to destroy the ideology is something that takes a lot of time. And that's something that cannot be done in a few years and you know, it may even take decades in order to do that.

ALLEN: And let's look at another related issue. Russia and Iran, certainly they have their own interests in the region and it's been said that they like this decision by the U.S. President and maybe that's not a good sign. The U.S. President called the fact that that might be true. Fake news. He just kind of disregarded the story about Russia and Iran. What do you make of that?

LEIGHTON: Well, I think disregarding this story -- this aspect of the story is really a critical mistake. Because when your adversary like something that you do you should check in the rearview mirror and see exactly what is happening and why they are liking this particular thing that you're doing. Sometimes there's a legitimate reason for them to be in favor of something that you like but in many cases, it's because they've detected a weakness in you.

[01:10:23] And in this particular case the Russians and the Iranians both are salivating as the prospect of being able to control Syria in very -- in a very high degree because now they are giving -- they're being given free rein and that free rein is going to change the complexion not only of Syria itself but potentially the political complexion of the northern Middle East. And that will have profound implications not only for allies like the Kurds but also NATO allies of ours, the Turks, the Syrians themselves, the Israelis, the Lebanese, all of the countries in that area. Not to mention of course Iraq which we spent so much time fighting over.

And that's really going to be I think the serious challenge here. And what we're dealing with here is great power politics and I don't think the President of the United States appreciates that fact. He is not looking at this from the standpoint of a Henry Kissinger or somebody like that. He's looking at this from a very narrow political lens and that's a very dangerous thing for us to get into at this point.

ALLEN: We'll wait and see if he backs down. He's not indicated he will do that even though he's been widely criticized for this. We really appreciate your insights, your expertise, retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Thank you so much.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Natalie, anytime.

ALLEN: Joining me now, CNN Political Analysts and Senior Political Correspondent for the Washington Examiner David Drucker. David, we really appreciate you joining us quite the busy 24 hours from Washington has been. Let's start with James Mattis. He's resigns over a multitude issues as Defense Secretary, but he apparently vehemently opposed to President Trump's decision on Syria. At first the official word from the White House was he's retiring. Clearly, he resigned over policy issues. There been other top officials who quit but where do you place this one?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is one of the bigger days in Washington and I think because so many people in the United States and around the world looked at Mattis as a sort of anchor in this administration. You may not like hat the President did or said from day to day, you may worry about what the President's going to say or do next.

But as long as Jim Mattis was the Secretary of Defense, you felt like at least the president was sticking with one prudent choice and that there was somebody there to advise him about what was right and what was wrong, what was good for U.S. national security, what was good for security around the world and the U.S. in its particular role in both of those areas. And with Mattis gone and resigning in protest -- and make no mistake about it. He didn't just resign over policy differences, he resigned over policy differences and behavioral differences and he wanted the world and the country to know about it.

And so I think it sets this administration on a new course and it's going to create a heightened sense of anxiety in a country already full of anxiety. And I would expect around the world especially among American allies there's going to be a heightened sense of concern about what the President is going to do next and I think that could have an impact on markets. I think that could have an impact on what American adversaries do, adversaries of our allies do. And so I don't think we totally know where this goes next.

ALLEN: Right, because there are questions about what does this mean for Iran and what does this mean for Russia, their interests in Syria. And apparently, the White House didn't inform our allies of this decision so that's a big deal.

DRUCKER: No, the President didn't inform key members of his own administration about this decision. And this will immediately elevate Vladimir Putin's stature in the Middle East. It gives Russia a lot more influence. It elevates Tehran. Iran is going to have a lot more influence in the Middle East because of our pullout from Syria. It's not so much that we're pulling out from Syria but it's the way in which we're doing it without consultation. We're leaving a lot of our security partners in the region in the lurch, putting them under -- leaving them under siege. They're going to be threatened by Turkey in some cases by Iran and Russia, in other cases. Assad is still in place.

And it sets a tone in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world that the U.S. doesn't stick, and you can't count on them. They may show up, they may help for a while, then they're going to bug out. And our adversaries and our competitors are going to try and use that to their advantage. ALLEN: And that is an issue globally and now domestically he is faced

-- Congress is faced and Americans with a government shutdown. Let's get the latest on that and we'll talk about it. This is what we know. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to fund president Trump's $5 billion request for his border wall largely along party lines. The move coming as Mr. Trump refused to sign a bill without money for the wall. But the measure vote could be dead on arrival when it reaches the Senate where it may not have enough support.

Without a deal between the two branches of Congress by midnight Friday, there would be a partial government shutdown. You also mentioned, David, the stock market has been tanking, where does this go from here?

[01:15:19] DRUCKER: I'm really not sure. You know, these are always political differences. What kind of government funding should be approved, what should be paid for, what shouldn't? And people can sort of debate that.

I think, you know, the issue here is that last week, the Republicans were talking about passing a particular bill in the House of Representatives that didn't have the votes to pass. The president then backed down from his demand, agreed to a continuing resolution, basically funding the government at current levels without the extra money for border security that he was asking for.

That's the deal he made. And so, the Republicans in the Senate made sure it got through. House Republicans were literally in the middle of selling it this morning when the president changed his mind.

And so, they found a new way of funding the government to give the president what he want. And this new way of doing it, adding disaster relief for a lot of the national disasters we've had in the United States. Created the votes on the Republican side to get this thing pass with the border money that the president wanted.

The problem -- the problem is it's going to run into trouble in the Senate where you need at least probably a dozen Democratic votes to get it through because you won't get all 51 Republicans.

And it happens at a very late hour, right before Christmas after the Senate agreed to a deal that the president then backed away from. And so, it's harder to do this now than have the president and House Republicans just come up with -- come up with this from the get-go a couple of weeks ago, passed it and said, "Hey, Senate, the ball is in your court." It would have facilitated more compromise.

Instead, you have a whole lot of uncertainty. Just a few days before Christmas. It makes people very frustrated on Capitol Hill. When they're frustrated it's harder to get a deal done. Democrats are going to have pressure from their left flank not to give the president any money for his wall because it's become so politically toxic on their side of the aisle.

The Democrats just won a very big election in the midterm elections. They don't feel any political incentive to do this. And so, all of this leaves this where I have no idea because nobody else in Washington seems to know yet.

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. And we'll be watching it hour by hour. Certainly, Friday will be a pivotal day. David Drucker, thank you for your insights.

DRUCKER: Thank you. We have breaking news to report from London. Gatwick Airport now re-opening after a 32-hour shutdown. Authorities grounded all flights when drones were spotted Wednesday flying dangerously close to the U.K.'s second-largest Airport.

Tens of thousands of passengers have been stranded on some of the busiest travel days of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you doing, you're making everyone's lives a misery. I'm sure that was what their intention was in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I start to understand why, why would they do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like it's just a prank. I feel like people just want it to be cool, and be on the news and --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Well, we don't know yet the story. But the U.K. Ministry of Defense deployed specialized equipment to help in the search for those responsible for the drones, whoever was behind it is in a lot of trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WOODROOFE, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GATWICK AIRPORT: This is a deliberate act. This is someone who's seeking to disrupt those passengers. And he's so disappointing that you've got a perpetrator of a crime out there punishable by five years' imprisonment, and he has now disrupted 120,000 passenger's journeys this close to Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: So again, the development is planes will be flying. Let's talk more though about this situation. Joining us from Denver Colorado is CNN aviation safety analyst David Soucie, also a former safety inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration.

David, thanks for being with us. So again, thankfully, there is confidence the airport is safe. Because apparently, airplanes will begin flying. But no official word on whether anyone has been apprehended.

But this story, David, that shut down this huge airport certainly illustrates the new threat from drones, does it not?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Yes, it certainly does. There's a huge vulnerability right now. Technology usually advances faster than the regulations can keep up with it. And especially, in this case, it's advanced faster than the safety mechanisms and mitigations can keep up with. So, it is a very, very serious concern at other airports as well.

ALLEN: Right. And it's, it's so interesting that according to reports, authorities would -- the drone would disappear, authorities would think was all clear, and then it would come back. It was like a cat-and-mouse game. So, is there no easy way to catch perpetrators right now?

SOUCIE: Well, there are ways to get those perpetrators. Two or three different mechanisms for doing that. One of the best ones right now is to try to block the signal that goes to the drone. And once that happens, then the drone automatically returns back to the base where it took out -- took off from.

But again, it takes money to have that type of equipment at every Airport. And they just weren't prepared for this. They really weren't prepared for it. There are mechanisms they could have used. They had to bring the military in for this as they just hadn't planned for it.

[01:20:19] ALLEN: Well, the solution you just described seems like it would be a feasible one if they could get ahead of it, and employ that technology.

But you mentioned the military, want to ask you about that. Because they had been deployed and there was discussion to try and shoot this drone or these drones down. Has that ever been tried before, and would that sound like a reasonable action that might work?

SOUCIE: Well, actually, when President Obama was overseas, I believe it was in Germany, they used the device. It's awkward-looking gun if you will. And it shoots nets out, and the nets are designed to grab the drone and bring it back to the ground. So, they use those there and there was never an occasion to actually use them but they were there and prepared and ready to take down these drones.

That's certainly wouldn't work in this situation. Because the range that these industrial type drones have, it can be as much as five six, even 10 miles now, where they could be flying the aircraft, 10 miles away from where it took off.

So, it's -- those mechanisms really aren't that effective. And shooting it down most these drones, the only way maybe, you know, 2,530 pounds, very small. To be able to shoot that out of the air is not an easy thing to do.

ALLEN: And you know, when you see pictures of these drones that, you know, we're seeing now, they come in all shapes and sizes. This one was believed to be modified, maybe more industrial drone. I want to ask you what kind of damage can this cause to an airplane. How dangerous are all of these instruments to airplanes?

SOUCIE: Well, as far as it impact with the aircraft as the aircraft is flying, the -- it would really have to go through an engine or critical part of the aircraft. The engine, now, the most these drones, like I said, they don't weigh that much but they are mechanical devices. And the aircraft moving forward it, a couple 100 miles an hour.

And then, you look at the fans, the engine fans that are turning at a 30,000 mile or 30,000 rotations per minute. And you impact that with the drone, and it's not going to just go through easily, even groups of birds can bring aircraft down as we saw not too many years ago when the aircraft was grounded on to the -- into the river.

ALLEN: Right, in New York.

SOUCIE: But, at this -- yes, so at this point, a metal device going through there, metal and plastics going through an engine can certainly shut that engine down. So, it's something to be concerned about on certainly.

ALLEN: Would you have been an investigator with the FAA? And so, when we look at what airports are up against, David, and the people that were affected, some 110,000 people were expected to land or takeoff from this one Airport in the U.K. How might airports come together? Is there any universal issue that could be adopted to try to make sure a major airport couldn't be taken hostage?

SOUCIE: Well, as I mentioned before, the technology is far ahead of the regulations. And regulations are usually what's necessary for the airports to justify the investments that they need to make, to make -- to make defenses against the drones.

So, I -- unfortunately, I see that most of the airports are ill- prepared to deal with this. And I think, I fear that there's going to be more copycats at other airports doing this just out of -- you know, the desire to be famous and desired to say, "Hey, I shut down an airport."

This is not something to mess around with. It's a five-year mandatory jail sentence if you get caught doing this.

ALLEN: Right.

SOUCIE: So, it's not something to be playing with.

ALLEN: Right, it's no joke when you could spend five years in prison for that, absolutely. David Soucie, we'll talk with you again as we learn more about who was behind this. And hopefully, this is over at this point. Thank you.

SOUCIE: All right, thank you.

ALLEN: Next here, China fighting back as the U.S. accuses it of working with a group of hackers to steal global business secrets. We'll have a live report from Beijing.

Also, why some of President Trump's critics say he is betraying a key ally by pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[01:27:10] ALLEN: China is fighting back against allegations that it's behind a hacking group that stole trade secrets from dozens of corporations.

The U.S. has charged two Chinese nationals with stealing information from 45 U.S. companies. But 11 other countries say they've been affected too. China's response, that the United States fabricated the facts.

CNN's senior producer Steven Jiang joins us from the Chinese capital. He's following this for us. That's a lot of countries that are joining with the U.S., Steven, but there has been a staunch denial by the Chinese on this. Are they saying anything more about why they say this hacking didn't happen?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Natalie, that's the problem. The Chinese response as you mentioned has come very swiftly and strongly. But they really didn't offer much when it comes to counter arguments against the evidence presented by a prosecutors in these latest indictments, but also by other global cybersecurity firms in the past. That is these digital evidence left behind by these alleged Chinese hackers.

Now, the Chinese denial was basically repeating their standard lying about these are pure fabrications out of thin air, they are vile in nature with a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman demanding the U.S. to drop these charges immediately or face potentially negative consequences in bilateral relations.

Now we have seen this kind of back-and-forth between Beijing and Washington before. As you noted, what's different this time is it's no longer just the U.S. accusing China. It's the U.S. government and 11 other nations banding together, presenting this united front basically calling out on China on this kind of unacceptable behavior when it comes to stealing trade secrets and other sensitive information.

Really involving many key advanced industries that the Chinese have been trying very hard to become a global leader in. Such as aviation, maritime technology, satellite and missile technologies, and so on.

So, you know, it's worth noting that there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China. So, it's very unlikely we'll see these two Chinese men ever appear at a U.S. courtroom.

The U.S. officials have stressed they're aware of this, but they are saying they're sending a very strong message to Beijing. It's their clearest signal yet that we have caught you red-handed it again and you better stop doing this immediately. Especially, now there's an increasing international consensus on this critically important issue of the economic espionage. Natalie?

ALLEN: Right, and all of this coming as there are U.S.-China trade issues. Serious one, so this could be easy to see if it has implications in that. Steven Jiang, we appreciate your reporting. We'll see you again on this one. Thanks.

[01:29:57] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. military is going to pack up and leave Syria. But where does that leave the Syrian Kurds who've been battling ISIS? Unfortunately it is a tough spot the largest minority on earth has been in many times before.

We'll have a report, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: And welcome back. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen. Thanks for being with us.

Here are the headlines.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis will leave the Trump administration at the end of February. A senior U.S. Official said Mattis resigned over President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria -- a move Mattis quote, "vehemently opposed".

The U.S. military has an ordered plan withdrawing about half of all American troops from Afghanistan. A defense official tells CNN roughly 7,000 troops could leave the country over the next several months. The decision was reportedly made Tuesday, the same day as the Syria decision.

Operations at London's Gatwick airport are finally starting to resume with a limited number of flights. The airfield was closed for more than a day stranding tens of thousands of passengers because of repeated drone sightings. The police are searching for the drone operator.

One person who did not seem shocked by the sudden resignation of the U.S. Defense Secretary was senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller. He spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and portrayed Mattis's departure as just typical Washington turnover.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISOR: He and the President had a great relationship. Secretary Mattis served our country with honor and distinction.

At the same time, as you know, President Trump believes that many immensely wealthy countries are talking advantage of the United States. They are taking advantage of our dollars and our many, and have been for a long time, while we protect these very wealthy countries.

And the President has been very emphatic about the need to get a fair deal for the American taxpayer and to make sure that we're only engaged in activities that are in our national interest.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me ask you Stephen, the President said that Mattis is retiring. Why didn't -- and Mattis is -- Mattis is quitting. He's not retiring. He's quitting in protest over the President's policy. So why is the President saying in that statement he made on Twitter that Mattis is retiring?

MILLER: James Mattis is retiring. At the same time as Mattis said the President is entitled to a secretary of defense that has strong alignment with his views. And I think that's someone that all American can agree with.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But do you --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Stephen -- hold on a second.

MILLER: Wolf -- it's also very normal at this point in the administration to have turnover.

[01:34:59] Secretary Mattis had always made it clear to the President from the beginning he didn't plan on staying through the entire administration.

But this is an opportunity for the whole country to get a new secretary of defense who will be aligned with the President in these critical issues, whether you're talking about in Syria, whether you're talking about across the Middle East in general, whether you're talking about other countries paying their fair share and the whole America first agenda of this President.

BLITZER: But in his letter, Mattis lays out his views. And let me just briefly summarize some of those views. It's a very long letter that he writes.

He stands by -- he says treating allies with respect and being clear eyed about malign actors and competitors. And then he says because the President has a right to a defense secretary whose views are better aligned with his, he's stepping down.

That sounds to me, Stephen, like a very strong rebuke of the President's policies, isn't it.

MILLER: Well, it sounds to me like Secretary Mattis believes the President is entitled to a secretary of defense who is better aligned with his views.

At the same this President had a great relationship with Secretary Mattis and he thanks him for his service.

But let's talk about the big picture here -- Wolf. The media that is having this hysterical reaction to James Mattis retiring is the same media in many cases, the same politicians in many cases who cheered our nation into a war in Iraq that turned out to be an absolute catastrophe.

This president got elected to get our foreign policy back on the right track after years of being adrift. One foreign policy blunder after another -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya -- that hasn't worked out for the national interest.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So does the President -- Stephen does the President want to withdraw the 14,000 troops from Afghanistan and the 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in addition to the 2,000 troops in Syria.

MILLER: I have no -- I have absolutely no policy announcements of any kind to make tonight whatsoever. What I'm talking about Wolf, is the big picture of a country that through several administrations had an absolutely catastrophic foreign policy that cost trillions and trillions of dollars and thousands and thousands of lives and made the Middle East more unstable and more dangerous.

And let's talk about Syria. Let's talk about the fact -- ISIS is the enemy of Russia. ISIS is the enemy of Assad. ISIS is the enemy of Turkey. Are we supposed to stay in Syria for generation after generation spilling American blood to fight the enemies of all those countries?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The President said on one day that ISIS is defeated. The next day he says ISIS is there and let Russia take care of it.

MILLER: ISIS has been defeated. But if ISIS wants to retrench and regrow and reorganize, it's going to be up to those countries to defeat their enemy. Wolf -- when did the American people sign up to be in every war in every place in every site at ever conflict all over planet earth?

BLITZER: Why are some of your best friends, national security experts like Lindsey Graham for example, Marco Rubio for example -- so many other conservative Republicans and so many -- so many of the President's own national security team including the defense secretary, his national security advisor, the secretary of state opposed to the President's decision?

MILLER: Ok. Well, first of all, the secretary of state isn't opposed to the President's decision. So I'm not sure where that is coming from. The President more fundamentally welcomes robust views, welcomes debate. Had a fabulous relationship with the secretary of defense.

But again, some of the voices you're talking about like our dear friend Lindsey Graham who we like a great deal have been wrong about Middle East policy.

BLITZER: By the way, Lindsey Graham -- Stephen, Lindsey Graham said publicly on television that he spoke with Secretary Pompeo and he says Pompeo opposed the President's decision.

MILLER: Look, I just find it amusing that the media continues to cite Lindsey Graham as the greatest authority on foreign policy in American history. Since when has the United States media become the supporters of every entanglement in the Middle East that has bogged down this country. I just don't where this is coming from.

The American people voted for a president -- Donald Trump, who is very tough, very strong, very aggressive on terrorism, but at the same time smart, at the same time sophisticated, at the same time heeding the wisdom of our founders who warned about entangling foreign engagements.

Let's defend our national security. Let's put America first. Let's not spill American blood to fight the enemies of other countries as is the case in Syria.

BLITZER: I just want to point out, this isn't about media. This is about top senators, Republican senators, top national security advisors to the President, Stephen, expressing their opposition to the sudden decision. And then all of a sudden the secretary of defense announces he's resigning, he's quitting because he doesn't agree with the President's policies. This has nothing to do with the media.

MILLER: Well, my point though, and I don't mean any disrespect with this at all -- Wolf. I'm not even referring to your program. I'm just making a general observation. That is, you've seen hour and hour of coverage breathlessly trying to drag America deeper into a Syrian conflict, breathlessly engaging in propping up quotes from people who have dragged us into conflicts like Iraq.

I just find it curious because as far as I'm aware, the media is supposed to be filled with a lot of progressives who don't want America to be in endless, never-ending foreign conflicts.

[01:40:01] This President has been very clear about the fact he will defend America like no one else. He will have a military power second to none. He will kill terrorists wherever and whenever he has to. But he's also going to be sophisticated and intelligent and smart about it.

BLITZER: All right.

MILLER: And he's not going to have us in foreign conflicts like Syria, generation after generation after generation instead of protecting this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: The view there from the White House. And also, you heard the Washington establishment was caught off-guard by the public rift between President Trump and Secretary Mattis.

Here's what Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had to say about it.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Today's events have made one thing clear. President Trump is plunging the country into chaos. The stock market is down another 500 points. General Mattis is stepping down and we know he has real disagreements with the President on Syria and on the wall. And now President Trump is throwing a temper tantrum and creating the Trump shutdown of the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: It didn't stop there. Former CIA director John Brennan, a frequent critic of the President, offered this dire view. "Ok, Republicans, how much longer are you going to let this farcical presidency continue? At a time of political, economic and geostrategic turbulence, both nationally and globally, are you waiting for a catastrophe to happen before acting? Disaster looms."

In fact disaster already looms in Syria where Kurdish fighters are still at war with ISIS. Dramatic video obtained exclusively by CNN shows the deadly fighting that continues despite President Trump's claim ISIS has been defeated.

And some of President Trump's critics say his decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria is a betrayal of the Kurds.

But as senior international correspondent Arwa Damon explains, this is far from the first time the Kurds have been abandoned by the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: History has often been unkind to the Kurds, a cycle of repeated betrayals. When the U.S.-led coalition expelled Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait in 1991, then President H.W. Bush encouraged the Iraqi people to oust the dictator altogether.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's another way for the bloodshed to stop. And that is for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters in their own hands to force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.

DAMON: In response, Iraq's Kurds rose up against Saddam. But when his elite forces advanced more, the Kurds got no help. Millions fled to the mountains and many others were slaughtered trying to resist.

During the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Kurds were again enthusiastic allies, assisting American and British forces in their drive to Baghdad. When ISIS swept through Iraq four years ago, Kurdish resistance was crucial in keeping the militants at bay. They were instrumental in the fight to liberate Mosul.

In Syria, the U.S. turned to the Kurds there, the YPG as key allies, the main ground force that led the liberation of Raqqa, ISIS' headquarters.

But in both Iraq and Syria, the Kurds have been allies of convenience, deserted when no longer needed in the geopolitical chessboard.

Last year the U.S. stood by while the Iraqi military drove the Kurds back from territory they held during the fight against ISIS.

MASOUD BARZANI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF IRAQ KURDISTAN: We said that the people who were verbally telling us they were our friends and will support us, that they would have supported us must not (ph) stay silent. But it was clear that we were alone with our mountains (ph).

DAMON: In Syria, that history is repeating itself with President Trump's shocking announcement of a swift American withdrawal especially as the battle against ISIS, despite what he may claim, continues.

It is not just about leaving the front lines vulnerable when it comes to the Kurds. Turkey, who classifies the YPG as terrorists, is threatening to send more troops over the border as it did last January which impacted the battle against ISIS.

KARIN VON HIPPEL, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: The Kurdish fighters who were working with the U.S. in the south of Syria, fighting the Islamic state abandoned that battle and went up to support their brothers and sisters up in the north. So we're likely to see something like that happening again. So it is going to hurt the -- really the end game the fight against the Islamic state in terms of the territory it controls in Syria.

[01:44:50] DAMON: And then there is the message that this sends to America's other allies, be it local forces on the ground or on an international level. It's one that is perhaps already known -- that America will always and only act in its own perceived self-interest, no matter what the local, regional or international cost.

Arwa Damon, CNN -- Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcoming Mr. Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Mr. Putin says his American counterpart is right about ISIS being defeated in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): As far as ISIS is concerned, I agree more or less with the President of the U.S. We -- and I have spoke about this before -- have really achieved substantial changes with regard to the militants in Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Mr. Putin made the comment during his annual televised news conference. Critics say Moscow stands to gain from a vacuum in Syria if U.S. forces leave. The Russian president also warned of a new nuclear arms race and he blamed the Ukrainian government for increased military tension between the countries.

The U.S.-China trade war may be on hold for now but if it picks up again next year, gift giving could get much more expensive for some Americans.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: China could well be considered the toymaker to the world. But if the trade war between China and U.S. continues next year, the playthings will become a lot more expensive for American consumers.

CNN's Matt Rivers has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Santa's workshop -- China edition. No elves, but these workers are busy making sure so American parents can spend their hard-earned money on presents, namely toys.

The U.S. Toy Association says around 85 percent of all toys sold annually in the U.S. are made at factories like this one here in China. Billions of dollars' worth are shipped each year sold by companies in the U.S.

This particular factory makes foam figurines. Batman, Spider-Man, Darth Vader; footballs for the Tennessee National Guard and millions of these guys and the rest could be more expensive next Christmas.

TRUMP: China wants to make a deal. And it's just not acceptable to me yet. China has taken advantage of the United States for many, many years.

[01:49:57] RIVERS: The U.S. and China are locked in a trade war with negotiations ongoing after a meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at the G-20 this month. There's hope for a deal but if it falls through, get ready for more tariffs.

REBECCA MOND, VICE PRESIDENT, THE TOY ASSOCIATION: Quite simply, tariffs are attacks on consumers.

RIVERS: The U.S. has already put tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports to the U.S. In other words, U.S. companies have to pay more to buy Chinese products.

The administration has threatened to tax $267 billion more. Toys have largely avoided that tax for now but if the trade war continues, they will get hit too.

MOND: If tariffs were to go into effect on toys sold to the United States, that would be devastating for -- particularly for small companies.

RIVERS: They would avoid those tariffs if they imported from somewhere else but China is unique. The skilled labor, the established supply chain, the same factories capable of making different toys depending on demand. No other country can do that.

So even if tariffs are put in place, experts say that moving all of this to another country like say the United States just doesn't make financial sense.

So companies will keep buying Chinese products even if tariffs make them more expensive. And that extra cost will likely get passed on to the consumer, a.k.a. you, mom and dad.

"Imagine this," he says, "they need to spend $150 or $200 on what used to cost just $100. It is going to be tough especially for medium and low income Americans."

The Trump administration says tariffs are a tool to force China to change. For decades they've stolen U.S. intellectual property and best practices and a restricted market access for American companies. That is a fact but changing that behavior with tariffs has a cost.

"Trump's policy was meant for helping the American people but it is a double-edged sword. It hit China but it's also going to hurt American wallets (ph)."

Unless both sides can come to an agreement. So if you don't want next year's Christmas to cost more, you'd likely hope for a deal and for President Trump to turn his attention to some other pressing foreign policy issues.

Matt Rivers, CNN -- (INAUDIBLE), China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: It is becoming harder and harder for migrants to seek refuge in the United States but one Afghan refugee family beat the odds and they're celebrating their first Christmas in America.

We'll tell you about it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: An Afghan refugee family who fled violence and uncertainty five years ago are experiencing something they could hardly have imagined in their homeland -- an early Christmas in America.

As CNN's Lynda Kinkade reports, their celebration comes as the U.S. is welcoming fewer and fewer refugees.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a Christmas like no other, a first for this refugee family -- their present, a new life in America five years after fleeing Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This -- you got to be kidding me. This is a big jacket. Yes. Yes.

[01:54:50] KINKADE: These two families have never met but the spirit of the season of giving has brought them together. The International Rescue Committee which helps refugees start their lives in the U.S. helps match families wanting to donate with new immigrants.

It's a merry moment now but for Ali and Akila (ph) and their two young sons, seven-year-old Daniel and three-year-old Martin it's been five years of living in limbo since they fled Afghanistan. It was a dangerous journey that led them first to Indonesia where they applied for refugee status with the United Nations which eventually refer their case to the United States.

To be resettled as a refugee is so rare it's like a Christmas miracle. Less than one percent of refugees around the world ever get that opportunity. Here in the U.S. under the Trump administration, refugee resettlement is headed for an historic low.

Next year it will be capped at 30,000 people. That's a far cry from 1980 when 200,000 refugees came here to call America home.

After U.S. President Donald Trump took office, a new process meant the family had to redo some of the screening checks which delayed their arrival by another year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When there was like something was not happening, especially for our family like people get really, really stressed and they keep praying. We ask our friends to pray for us. And it turned out to be wonderful.

KINKADE: So far life for Ali in the U.S. is the American dream. He has a job as a pharmacist (INAUDIBLE), he's bought a car and his oldest son is going to school, something he dreamed about during the years of uncertainty in Indonesia while their refugee claim was processed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was watching -- he's watching the series that involved the yellow bus going to school. And he was like, when he come, he said I'm going with that yellow bus for the school. I'm allowed to go to school now. Yes, he was very excited.

I really did this.

KINKADE: Ali is excited about his new home too and says he feels welcome even in this political climate where not everyone shares his enthusiasm for refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our favorite place is like town, going to Wal- Mart. People are amazing. If don't say hello, if they are not smiling, if -- you know, we just say they don't know us.

KINKADE: Ali says one of the best gifts this holiday did not come in a box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the best present. As soon as we touched down we are free. We don't have to be afraid of leaving home saying goodbye to family, say I'm going to work and we don't know what happened by the time I come back home.

KINKADE: And it's the gift that will keep giving.

Lynda Kinkade, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my favorite.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: What fun -- opening gifts.

We'll end on that one.

Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

We'll have more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)