Trump picks Pen­tagon chief

Congress would have to pass law for ex-gen­eral to serve

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - By Dan Lamothe

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has cho­sen re­tired Marine Gen. James Mattis to be sec­re­tary of de­fense, Trump said Thurs­day in Cincin­nati, se­lect­ing a for­mer se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cer who has said that re­spond­ing to “po­lit­i­cal Is­lam” is the ma­jor se­cu­rity is­sue fac­ing the United States.

Mattis, who re­tired as chief of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand in 2013, has of­ten said that Wash­ing­ton lacks an over­all strat­egy in the Mid­dle East, opt­ing to in­stead han­dle is­sues in an in­ef­fec­tive one-by-one man­ner.

“Is po­lit­i­cal Is­lam in the best in­ter­est of the United States?” Mattis said at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion in 2015, speak­ing about the sep­a­rate chal­lenges of the Is­lamic State and Ira­ni­an­backed ter­ror­ism. “I sug­gest the an­swer is no, but we need to have the dis­cus­sion. If we won’t even ask the ques­tion, how do we even rec­og­nize which is our side in a fight?”

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

A for­mal an­nounce­ment is likely Mon­day, Trump Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump walks with re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis af­ter a meet­ing Nov. 19. said at the Ohio rally.

Mattis, 66, served more than four decades in the Marine Corps and 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 se­curi- ty dis­cus­sions of­ten fo­cus on ter­ror­ist groups such as Is­lamic State or al-Qaida, 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 Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion last year may slow Iran’s am­bi­tions to get a nu­clear weapon but will not stop them. But he added that “ab­sent a clear and present vi­o­la­tion,” he did not see a way that Wash­ing­ton could go back on it, be­cause any uni­lat­eral sanc­tions is­sued by the United States would not be as valu­able if al­lies were not on board.

“In terms of strength­en­ing Amer­ica’s global stand­ing among Euro­pean and Mid­dle Eastern na­tions alike, the sense is that 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. Mattis served from Novem­ber 2007 to Au­gust 2010 as the supreme al­lied com­man­der of trans­for­ma­tion for the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion, 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.

“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 the con­di­tion of anonymity t o 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 will 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, 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 past 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.


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