Mat­tis cruises to likely con­fir­ma­tion

The Progress-Index - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Burns

Re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis on Thurs­day moved to­ward likely con­fir­ma­tion as Don­ald Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, eas­ily pre­vail­ing in a Se­nate vote grant­ing him an ex­emp­tion to run the Pen­tagon as a re­cently re­tired of­fi­cer. At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, he called Rus­sia the na­tion’s No. 1 se­cu­rity threat, ac­cus­ing its leader of try­ing to “break” NATO. The Se­nate voted 81-17 to ap­prove leg­is­la­tion over­rid­ing a pro­hi­bi­tion against for­mer U.S. ser­vice mem­bers who have been out of uni­form less than seven years from hold­ing the De­fense Depart­ment’s top job. The re­stric­tion is meant to pre­serve civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary. The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee backed the waiver in a 34-28 vote; the full House will take up the mat­ter Fri­day.

WASH­ING­TON — Re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis on Thurs­day cruised to­ward likely con­fir­ma­tion as Don­ald Trump’s de­fense sec­re­tary, eas­ily pre­vail­ing in a Se­nate vote grant­ing him an ex­emp­tion to run the Pen­tagon as a re­cently re­tired of­fi­cer. At his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, he called Rus­sia the na­tion’s No. 1 se­cu­rity threat, ac­cus­ing its leader of try­ing to “break” NATO.

The Se­nate voted 81-17 to ap­prove leg­is­la­tion over­rid­ing a pro­hi­bi­tion against for­mer U.S. ser­vice mem­bers who have been out of uni­form less than seven years from hold­ing the De­fense Depart­ment’s top job. The re­stric­tion is meant to pre­serve civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary. The House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee backed the waiver in a 34-28 vote; the full House will take up the mat­ter Fri­day.

Mat­tis, 66, spent four decades in uni­form, re­tir­ing in 2013 with a rep­u­ta­tion as an ef­fec­tive com­bat leader and an as­tute strate­gist. Sep­a­rate from the over­ride leg­is­la­tion, the Se­nate will vote later on Mat­tis’ nom­i­na­tion and will al­most cer­tainly con­firm him.

The only other ex­cep­tion to the seven-year rule was made for the leg­endary Ge­orge Mar­shall in 1950, the year Mat­tis was born. Even some of Trump’s strong­est crit­ics have sup­ported the waiver for Mat­tis, ar­gu­ing that his ex­pe­ri­ence and tem­per­a­ment can serve as a steady­ing in­flu­ence on a new pres­i­dent with no ex­pe­ri­ence in na­tional se­cu­rity.

It was un­clear if Pres­i­dent Barack Obama would sign the leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing Mat­tis to take up the post, or if it would fall to Trump af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion.

At an un­con­tentious con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing, Mat­tis sketched an in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity scene dom­i­nated by dark im­ages of an ag­gres­sive Rus­sia, resur­gent China and vi­o­lent Mideast. He de­scribed Iran as a ma­jor desta­bi­liz­ing force, called North Korea a po­ten­tial nu­clear threat and said the U.S. mil­i­tary needs to grow larger and read­ier for com­bat.

“We see each day a world awash in change,” Mat­tis said. “Our coun­try is still at war in Afghanistan and our troops are fight­ing against ISIS and other ter­ror­ist groups in the Mid­dle East and else­where. Rus­sia is rais­ing grave con­cerns on sev­eral fronts, and China is shred­ding trust along its pe­riph­ery.”

Mat­tis por­trayed Rus­sia as an ad­ver­sary and said the his­tory of U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions is not en­cour­ag­ing.

“I have very mod­est ex­pec­ta­tions for ar­eas of co­op­er­a­tion with Mr. Putin,” he said, de­liv­er­ing an as­sess­ment strik­ingly dis­so­nant with that of his po­ten­tial com­man­der in chief. Trump has re­peat­edly praised Putin, even as U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have ac­cused the Rus­sian leader of or­ches­trat­ing a cam­paign of in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 U.S. elec­tion.

Of Putin, said Mat­tis, a for­mer NATO mil­i­tary leader: “He is try­ing to break the North At­lantic al­liance.”

He said he has ex­plained to Trump his views on Rus­sia, which in­clude a deep worry that Moscow is de­ter­mined to use in­tim­i­da­tion and nu­clear threats to cre­ate a sphere of un­sta­ble states on its pe­riph­ery.

Mat­tis, who has served in nu­mer­ous se­nior mil­i­tary po­si­tions, in­clud­ing com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand in charge of all Amer­i­can forces in the Mid­dle East, said he sup­ports the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s moves to re­as­sure Euro­pean al­lies af­ter Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion and mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity in eastern Ukraine.

While the U.S. should re­main open to work­ing with Rus­sia, Mat­tis said, the prospects for co­op­er­a­tion were nar­row­ing even as ar­eas of dis­agree­ment grow larger.

As he spoke, Trump’s choice to run the CIA, Rep. Mike Pom­peo of Kansas, sided with in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials who claim the Krem­lin was be­hind the elec­tion cy­ber­at­tacks, adopt­ing a sim­i­larly tough stand against Rus­sia in his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. Ties be­tween the for­mer Cold War foes also have been strained by Syria’s civil war.

Mat­tis faced no hos­tile ques­tions from Repub­li­cans or Democrats, re­ceiv­ing bipartisan praise for his rep­u­ta­tion as a straight-talk­ing, well-read man of in­tegrity and in­tel­li­gence.

Wil­liam Co­hen, a de­fense sec­re­tary for Demo­cratic Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, in­tro­duced Mat­tis as a “hum­ble man with very lit­tle to be hum­ble about.”

“He’s a man of thought as well as ac­tion,” Co­hen said.

Mat­tis said the world or­der is un­der “the big­gest at­tack since World War II,” blam­ing Rus­sia, China and in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions for its desta­bi­liza­tion.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate James Mat­tis lis­tens to ques­tions from Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, D-N.Y., about his views on women and gays serv­ing in the mil­i­tary Thurs­day at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton.

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