Retired Marine Gen. Mattis picked for secretary of defense
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.
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.
Trump made the announcement during a post-election victory rally Thursday in Cincinnati.
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 such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda, the Iranian regime is the “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 it.
“In terms of strengthening America’s global standing among European and Mideastern 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 stabili- ty. In the same event, Mattis said he was troubled by President Barack 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-inchief.”
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” 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,” will join the Trump administration after calls by some conservatives for him to join the presidential race in a longshot independent bid aimed at derailing Trump’s ascent this spring. The general declined to do so, saying he didn’t understand the speculation.
Also Thursday, Trump says he has narrowed his choice for a Supreme Court nominee “to probably three or four candidates.”
One of Trump’s first decisions after his inauguration will be to nominate a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. The high court has been functioning with just eight justices since then, with the Republicanled Senate refusing to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Trump told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity in an interview that aired Thursday night that his Supreme Court candidates are “terrific people. Highly respected, brilliant people.”