Re­tired Marine Gen. Mattis picked for sec­re­tary of de­fense

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Lamothe

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.”

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