Trump taps James 'Mad Dog' Mattis for defense secretary
Donald Trump says he will nominate retired Marine Corps general James Mattis for the position of secretary of defense.
Mattis, who retired in 2013, would become only the second general officer to serve as secretary of defense – the first being George Marshall during the Korean War.
But for Mattis to be confirmed, Congress would have to waive a law that says a general has to be out of the military for seven years before serving as defense secretary. Given the popularity of Mattis, it is likely he will overcome that hurdle with ease.
Mattis has a reputation as a battle-hardened, tough-talking Marine who was entrusted with some of the most challenging commands in the U.S. military. In a tweet last month, Trump referred to Mattis by his nickname "Mad Dog" and described him as "A true General's General!"
Mattis would be only the second retired general to serve as defense secretary, the first being George C. Marshall in 1950-51 during the Korean War. Marshall was a much different figure, having previously served as U.S. secretary of state and playing a key role in creating closer ties with Western Europe after World War II.
The only previous exception to the law requiring a gap after military service was for Marshall.
Although his record in combat and his credentials as a senior commander are widely admired, Mattis has little experience in the diplomatic aspects of the job of secretary of defense.
Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, described Mattis as a defense intellectual and as a military leader who distinguished himself in combat.
"He knows the Middle East, South Asia, NATO and other areas and has evinced both a nuanced approach to the wars we're in and an appreciation for the importance of allies," Fontaine said in an email exchange. "If he were to get the nomination, I suspect that he could attract a number of very talented people to work with him."
But Mattis hasn't been immune to controversy. He was criticized for remarking in 2005 that he enjoyed shooting people. He also drew more recent scrutiny for his involvement with the embattled biotech company Theranos, where he serves on the board.
As head of the Central Command from 2010 until his retirement in 2013, he was in charge of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mattis commanded the Marines who launched an early amphibious assault into Afghanistan and established a U.S. foothold in the Taliban heartland.
As the first wave of Marines moved toward Kandahar, Mattis declared that, "The Marines have landed, and now we own a piece of Afghanistan."
Two years later, he helped lead the invasion into Iraq in 2003 as the two-star commander of the 1st Marine Division.
The media considers it shocking that this "Marine's Marine" would say he enjoyed shooting people:
According to a recording of his remarks, Mattis said, "Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling."
He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis continued. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Mattis was counseled to choose his words more carefully.
Given the context of his remarks, what he said was admirable – hardly controversial except in social circles who don't understand the mindset of a trained Marine. The left thinks someone like Mattis is a danger to society, ready to go off and kill civilians for no reason. In fact, if they believed in God, they should hit their knees every night thanking the Lord for men like Mattis.
Mattis has a lot of friends on the Hill, which is a prerequisite for the job of defense secretary. He is knowledgable and takes a no-nonsense approach to terrorism. It's also possible he will dial back the social experimentation in the military that Barack Obama actually believed was one of the military's primary missions.
One thing is certain: a fresh wind will blow through the Pentagon from the first day of Mattis's tenure.