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Trump Selects Retired General James Mattis As Secretary Of Defense

President-Elect Trump has selected a retired Marine Corps General to lead the Defense Department:

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis to be secretary of defense, nominating a former senior military officer who led operations across the Middle East to run the Pentagon less than four years after he hung up his uniform, according to people familiar with the decision.

To take the job, Mattis will need Congress to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years. Congress has granted a similar exception just once, when Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed to the job in 1950.

An announcement is likely by early next week, according to the people familiar with the decision. Mattis declined to comment. Spokespersons for Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Mattis, 66, retired as the chief of U.S. Central Command in spring 2013 after serving more than four decades in the Marine Corps. He is known as one of the most influential military leaders of his generation, serving as a strategic thinker while occasionally drawing rebukes for his aggressive talk. Since retiring, he has served as a consultant and as a visiting fellow with the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University.

Like Trump, Mattis favors a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries abroad, especially Iran. The general, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Mattis said the next president “is going to inherit a mess,” and argued that the nuclear deal signed by the Obama administration last year may slow Iran’s ambitions to get a nuclear weapon, but won’t stop them.

“In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Mid-Eastern nations alike, the sense is that the America has become somewhat irrelevant in the Middle East, and we certainly have the least influence in 40 years,” Mattis said.

But Mattis may break with Trump’s practice of calling out allies for not doing enough to build stability. In the same event, Mattis said he was troubled by President Obama’s remarks in a March interview with The Atlantic that there were “free riders” accepting U.S. help without reciprocating. He added that he read the Atlantic story after printing it out, and briefly thought he had accidentally mixed it with a news clip that highlighted Trump’s views.

“The President-elect is smart to think about putting someone as respected as Jim Mattis in this role,” said a former senior Pentagon official. “He’s a warrior, scholar, and straight shooter — literally and figuratively. He speaks truth to everyone, and would certainly speak truth to this new commander-in-chief.”

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Trump’s personnel choices, said, “If there’s any concern at all, it’s the principle of civilian control over the military. This role was never intended to be a kind of Joint Chiefs of Staff on steroids, and that’s the biggest single risk tied to Mattis. For Mattis, the biggest risk for him personally is that he’ll have a national security adviser in the form of Mike Flynn whose management style and extreme views may arch Mattis’ eyebrows and cause conflict over time. It’s no fun to be secretary of defense if you have to constantly feud with the White House.”

Mattis served from November 2007 to August 2010 as the supreme allied commander of transformation for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in which he focused on improving the military effectiveness of allies. Trump called NATO “obsolete” earlier this year, before saying later that he was “all for NATO,” but wanted all members to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, a NATO goal.

(…)

Mattis, whose nicknames include “Mad Dog” and the “Warrior Monk,” has had a leading hand in some of the U.S. military’s most significant operations in the last 20 years. As a one-star general, he led an amphibious task force of Marines that carried out a November 2001 raid in helicopters on Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, giving the Pentagon a new foothold against the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Using the call sign “Chaos,” he commanded a division of Marines during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and returned there the following year to lead Marines in bloody street fighting in the city of Fallujah.

Mattis continued to rise through the ranks and establish his credentials as a military thinker, co-authoring the U.S. military’s new counterinsurgency manual with then-Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus while Mattis was a three-star general at Quantico, Va.

He was considered a leading contender to become commandant of the Marine Corps in 2010, but was bypassed in favor of Gen. James F. Amos. Instead, Mattis replaced Petraeus as the chief of Central Command, overseeing U.S. military operations across the Middle East.

Even though Central Command didn’t encompass Israel, Gen. Mattis made a concerted effort to reach out to his Israeli military counterparts, according to Steven Simon, who worked with Gen. Mattis when he served on Obama’s National Security Council.

Simon, who now teaches at Amherst College, said Mattis made frequent stops in Israel during trips to the region, part of an effort to encourage the Jewish State and its Arab neighbors to work together to counter Iranian influence. “They respected Mattis because they saw him as a straight shooter and a good listener,” said Simon of the Israelis and Arabs.

The one obvious concern raised by Trump’s selection of Mattis is the extent to which it might blur the lines between the Generals in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the principal of civilian of control of the military, with the concern obviously being that someone who has served in uniform so recently in the past  may be more likely to defer to the military commanders than a civilian would be. Additionally, it’s unclear if Congress will pass the legislation necessary to give Mattis the waiver that would allow him to serve as Secretary of Defense. Given the fact that both houses of Congress are in Republican hands, though, it seems unlikely that many will stand in the way of the President-Elect in getting his choice confirmed as soon as possible in January.

With Mattis’s selection, there is only one member of the President-Elect’s foreign policy team that hasn’t been named, the new Secretary of State. Based on current reporting, it would appear that the choice is down to as few as four names with two — Mitt Romney and retired General David Petraeus — being among the most likely choices. At this point, though, there’s no indication as to when that announcement will be made.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. KM says:

    Great. Already needing to bend and change inconvenient rules to get his way. Considering the law was passed in 1947 (you know, a time of war both hot and cold), they might have figured something out about the importance of civilian governmental control that eludes the President-Elect. But Palin’s a choice for VA instead of this guy? I swear, it’s like he’s throwing darts at the wall…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  2. MBunge says:

    @KM: Considering the law was passed in 1947 (you know, a time of war both hot and cold), they might have figured something out about the importance of civilian governmental control that eludes the President-Elect.

    However, the Electoral College created in 1787 (you know, by the people who actually founded this country) is completely worthless.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 13

  3. lizzie dw says:

    @MBunge: If we did not have the electoral college, the densely populated areas of the country would be able to pick the president. They count the vote by counties. Mr. Trump won 1,084 counties; Mrs. Clinton 52 counties. As you could see from the map of the votes Mr. Trump won practically the whole country. The 52 counties that Mrs.Clinton won are the most densely populated counties; that is why Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote. All her voters are crowded into those big blue splotches in a sea of red on the map. Do you think a voter in Kansas is going to vote to get rid of the electoral college? No.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. lizzie dw says:

    I disagree with the choice of (Ret) Gen. Mattis as Sec. of Defence. Not only is he too connected to the military, he is also another voice against Iran. Mike Pompeo (CIA) is against Iran; Mike Flynn (NSA) is against Iran. There is some connection between some of these guys with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). Mike Flynn co-wrote a book with a guy named Michael Ledeen, who is a Freedom Scholar at FDD; Walid Phares , who is Mr. Trump’s advisor on terrorism is a Senior Fellow of the FDD. The FDD is very pro-Israel and very, very anti Iran. The point of all this is that, at this point, Mr. Trump is all for trade. He wants to “get along with everybody that wants to get along with us”. At this point also there is no public information that Iran is planning to attack us and I do not think Iran wants to attack us. Iran does not have nuclear weapons and is a member of the non–proliferation treaty. Israel has nuclear weapons and is NOT a member of the non-proliferation treaty. There seems to be a lot of anti-Iran sentiment apparent in these cabinet picks and Mr. Trump is not even our president yet. Since I voted for Mr. Trump because I was terrified that Hillary Clinton would immediately if not sooner rush to bomb any country at all, I am really disturbed by some of Mr. Trump’s choices and wonder that’s going on?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  5. Kylopod says:

    @lizzie dw:

    Mr. Trump won 1,084 counties; Mrs. Clinton 52 counties. As you could see from the map of the votes Mr. Trump won practically the whole country

    …if you think a country is better defined in terms of its land than in terms of its people.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  6. Mikey says:

    @lizzie dw:

    Mr. Trump won 1,084 counties; Mrs. Clinton 52 counties.

    That adds up to 1136 counties. There are 3,144 counties (and county equivalents) in the United States. Who won the rest of them?

    Well, Trump actually won about 2,600 counties and Clinton about 500, but who’s counting? LOL

    Interesting factoid: the ~500 counties Clinton won are responsible for about 64% of America’s GDP.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  7. MikeSJ says:

    @lizzie dw:
    Since I voted for Mr. Trump because I was terrified that Hillary Clinton would immediately if not sooner rush to bomb any country at all, I am really disturbed by some of Mr. Trump’s choices and wonder that’s going on?

    What is going on is Trump is a mentally unstable buffoon and your belief that he would be more moderate than Hillary was quite…ahh…optimistic on your part.

    I sincerely hope that I’m wrong and you were correct but I’m not confident about that at all. I fully expect war or wars to be started by Trump for the flimsiest of pretexts far far in excess of anything Hillary would have done.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  8. Hal_10000 says:

    @lizzie dw:

    Mattis might be against Iran but he is also against “tearing up” the Iran deal, recognizing that it basically would allow Iran to pursue a nuclear weapon without let or hindrance.

    I think this is a decent choice. Mattis is anti-torture and had no problem telling Trump that he opposed it. That’s reassuring in multiple way: that Mattis opposes it, that he won’t be a Yes Man and that Trump picked him despite (1) and (2). Mattis seems to have conservative but sensible views on Israel and Iran. I think he’s one the least bad choices yet. And might turn out to be a decent one.

    Interesting factoid: the ~500 counties Clinton won are responsible for about 64% of America’s GDP.

    So you’re going to respond to lizzie dw’s bad math with bad math of your own? Clinton won the most populous counties. But not everyone in those counties voted for her, so it’s not that simple to divide up the GDP like that.

    (And one might argue that this is precisely the point — the areas of the country that are still economically depressed voted for Trump out of desperation).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  9. An Interested Party says:

    However, the Electoral College created in 1787 (you know, by the people who actually founded this country) is completely worthless.

    Considering that the creation of the Electoral College is in large part tied up with this country’s original sin of slavery, yes, in many ways, it is completely worthless…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  10. Barry says:

    “…said that while security discussions often focus on terrorist groups like the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.””

    F*cking lying son of a 2-bit wh*re.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @lizzie dw: What’s going on is that Trump… um… …misrepresented–yeah, that’s the ticket, misrepresented–what he actually believed and is probably as much of a neo-con hardliner as Hillary was. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @lizzie dw:

    Since I voted for Mr. Trump because I was terrified […]

    Nope, sorry. Way too early for you to get any sympathy at all for deliberate active sabotage of America. I find it strange and disturbing that the rationale for voting for Trump sounds so much like the recurring excuse for cops shooting unarmed black men…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  13. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    with the concern obviously being that someone who has served in uniform so recently in the past may be more likely to defer to the military commanders than a civilian would be.

    I don’t contextualize the problem as deferring to the military commanders as much as I do the problem of appointing a Secretary of Defense who starts from the same worldview and assumptions as they have. If your main tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, if you will allow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000: So, is it “bad math” or “precisely the point?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Mitko Tasev says:

    Trump Selects Retarded General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense !!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  16. Stormy Dragon says:

    I found this profile useful:

    A Marine General at War

    Mattis actually seems like a good choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. TellTheTruth-2 says:

    Mad Dog Mattis over Peace Lover Tulsi Gabbard? Poor decision Donald. YOU ARE FIRED.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. 5.79.68.161 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: What’s going on is that Trump… um… …misrepresented–yeah, that’s the ticket, misrepresented–what he actually believed and is probably as much of a neo-con hardliner as Hillary was

    I disagree. “Neo-con hardliner” would imply some level of familiarity, or even concern, with politics and foreign policy. No, he’s an insecure, pathological narcissistic who just lucked into the largest source of Narcissistic Supply the world has ever seen.

    He’ll show largesse to those countries who line his pockets by helping his overseas business ventures, inflate both his ego and his profits stay in Trump hotels while visiting the US, and, most importantly, show him deference and shower him with praise.

    He’ll be belligerent with those who threaten his personal overseas interests without the leverage to keep him in line, those who fail to proffer proper deference, and any Islamic country that doesn’t give him a fuckton of money, oil or other considerations.

    He’ll be submissive to those few world leaders and financiers who have enough leverage over him to force his hand – like China, Russia, and Deutsche Bank – and then lie about it to the public while seething privately.

    And aside from the implacable, irresistable, overwhelming drive to assauge his deep, unquenchable narcissistic insecurity by trying to make himself the richest, most powerful man in the world, absolutely none of it will be guided by any ideological position more complex than the simple-minded racism, misogyny, and religious bigotry that have been with him his entire adult life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Scott says:

    Mattis fulfills my criteria for a conservative: He’s not nuts. Unlike his boss.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Franklin says:

    [According to Mattis …] the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”

    Can someone just show me the basic arguments in support of this opinion? My foreign policy knowledge probably rivals Gary Johnson’s (which is to say it is very shaky), but I would probably list several other threats before Iran.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Franklin:

    Iran and Saudi Arabia are clearly the two most powerful countries in the middle east, so the largest threat to stability and peace is necessarily going to be the two of them wrangling over competing spheres of influence.

    Indeed, ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, and Yemen are really fights over whether Saudi Arabia’s proxies or Iran’s proxies are going to control Iraq, Syria, and Yemen respectively.

    Since we’ve decided we’re on Saudi Arabia’s side, that makes Iran our chief opponent in the region. So by itself, that statement isn’t a problem, it’s just a simple statement of fact. Where the problem may come in is in what the Trump administration may plan to do about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. al-Alameda says:

    I’m not sure that conservatives now care about this, but the legal restriction is in place to ensure that there was less probability/possibility that career military staff could be appointed Secretary of Defense, and in so doing ensure that would be civilian leadership of the Department of Defense.

    The Founding Fathers were mindful of this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  23. Mikey says:

    @al-Alameda: I’m sure the conservatives don’t. Mattis is a Tough Guy and that’s all they care about.

    Fortunately, Mattis is also a brilliant thinker who seems unlikely to stray from the principle of civilian control. Had Trump decided on someone like Boykin or Flynn, we’d be up shit creek without a paddle…or a canoe. Flynn’s going to do enough damage as National Security Adviser.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Mikey:

    I sort of agree with that. Not sure about his brilliance, but he is sharp, has a spine, and tries to do his own thinking. We might have gotten another Rumsfeld and we didn’t. He should be able to counter Flynn’s craziness…with ease.

    We must remember that the SoD is our first and last line of defense against Trumpian megalomania and the US military. That is how the chain of command is structured, though the SoD and not the joint chiefs as many assume. We could have done much much worse here. Much worse.

    This is especially good news because the guy who has been nominated to head the CIA is a tea-bagger in love with torture and like many turbo Christians worships blindly at the alter of St. Netanyahu. We are lucky to get anyone of Mattis’s caliber in Trumps cabinet. Very lucky.

    Having a Marine as both SoD and Chairman of the JC is likely to be good news for infantry and the Navy but bad news for the Air Force. The fighter pilot mafia has its work cut out for it. I suggest they learn to feign love for the A10…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. wr says:

    @MBunge: An argument is not the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.

    Yes it is.

    — The World According to Mbunge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Mikey says:

    @wr: https://youtu.be/hnTmBjk-M0c

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