Mat­tis gets praise for mil­i­tary ca­reer, but some fret over ser­vice

Democrats push civil­ian con­trol credo

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY S.A. MILLER

The nom­i­na­tion of Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis for de­fense sec­re­tary was greeted on both sides of the aisle with high praise of his distin­guished mil­i­tary ser­vice and strate­gic ex­per­tise, but Democrats warned that his con­fir­ma­tion was in jeop­ardy over the credo of keep­ing civil­ian con­trol of the Pen­tagon.

The need for Congress to grant a waiver to a law that re­quires at least seven years of sep­a­ra­tion from the mil­i­tary for any­one to be­come de­fense sec­re­tary — Gen. Mat­tis re­tired three years ago — makes it eas­ier to de­rail his nom­i­na­tion, and it gives Democrats in both cham­bers a shot at de­feat­ing the gen­eral.

The added lever­age of the waiver is­sue is mag­ni­fied due to Se­nate Democrats in 2013 re­sort­ing to the “nu­clear op­tion,” chang­ing the cham­ber’s rules to al­low con­fir­ma­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ap­point­ments with a ma­jor vote rather than the pre­vi­ously re­quired 60-vote su­per­ma­jor­ity.

The new rules all but guar­an­tee the Repub­li­can-run Se­nate will con­firm Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s picks.

Mil­i­tary ex­perts, how­ever, said the civil­ian lead­er­ship ar­gu­ment was a “friv­o­lous” rea­sons to block what oth­er­wise has been lauded as a stel­lar nom­i­na­tion.

“I don’t see that as an is­sue un­less we make it one — but truly it’s not an is­sue,” said re­tired Army Gen. Keith Brian Alexan­der, who at­tended the Na­tional War Col­lege with Gen. Mat­tis in 1993. “He is a su­perb lead­ers who un­der­stands what it is like to put mil­i­tary peo­ple at risk.”

“He will be a tremen­dous as­set for Pres­i­dent-elect Trump,” he said Sun­day on Fox News. “He will give Pres­i­den­t­elect Trump good ad­vice.”

Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand was out in front op­pos­ing the gen­eral and set the stage for a floor fight.

“While I deeply re­spect Gen­eral Mat­tis’s ser­vice, I will op­pose a waiver,” said the New York Demo­crat. “Civil­ian con­trol of our mil­i­tary is a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can democ­racy, and I will not vote for an ex­cep­tion to this rule.”

Sen. Jack Reed, the top Demo­crat on the Se­nate Arms Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, de­manded “a de­bate about our Con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple of civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary and pass­ing a new bill.”

The same case was be­ing made among House Democrats.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Demo­crat one the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, said Congress should “se­ri­ously con­sider” the waiver and then added a heavy dose of cau­tion.

“We must also bear in mind the prece­dent we would be set­ting and the im­pact it would have on the prin­ci­ple of civil­ian lead­er­ship of our na­tion’s mil­i­tary,” said the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat. “That con­cern

“Civil­ian con­trol of our mil­i­tary is a fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of Amer­i­can democ­racy, and I will not vote for an ex­cep­tion to this rule.”

— Sen. Kirsten Gil­li­brand, New York Demo­crat

would be fur­ther height­ened should the Pres­i­dent-elect nom­i­nate any fur­ther mil­i­tary per­son­nel to high po­si­tions of civil­ian lead­er­ship in his Ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Mr. Schiff’s warn­ing ap­peared aimed at Pres­di­ent-elect Don­ald Trump’s choice for sec­re­tary of state. Mr. Trump’s short list for the post in­cludes re­tired Army Gen. David H. Pe­traeus and re­tired Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly.

Thomas Houla­han, di­rec­tor of the Mil­i­tary As­sess­ment Pro­gram at Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity and Sci­ence, called the ar­gu­ment about civil­ian lead­er­ship “laugh­able.”

“What hap­pens in the next four years that sud­denly makes him a real civil­ian,” he said.

“This is what I would say to the peo­ple who are talk­ing about block­ing Mat­tis for this friv­o­lous rea­son or that friv­o­lous rea­son: You get the wrong [de­fense sec­re­tary], Amer­i­can sol­diers die be­cause of that stuff and I hope you are ready to ac­cept that.”

The law re­quir­ing a lengthy break from the mil­i­tary be­fore run­ning the Pen­tagon was adopted in the 1940s and has been waived only once, for Army Gen. Ge­orge Mar­shall in 1950, when the nom­i­nee needed a 10-years sep­a­ra­tion for the armed forces.

The law was changed to 7 years in 2008.

Mr. Houla­han was part of a cho­rus of mil­i­tary ex­perts and for­mer lead­ers from the armed forces who de­scribed Gen. Mat­tis as uniquely qual­i­fied to not only run the Pen­tagon but to also re­store con­fi­dence in the U.S. mil­i­tary.

“My take­away here is not that Mat­tis is a good ap­point­ment. Mat­tie is a nec­es­sary ap­point­ment,” he said. “The day to day job is go­ing to be mak­ing cer­tain that this na­tion has the fullest range of op­tions for its de­fense that it can have. We haven’t had that. What we’ve had is civil­ian lead­ers who are en­tirely too will­ing to ac­cept ex­cuses from peo­ple on why cer­tain ca­pa­bil­i­ties are not avail­able when they should be.”

“I think we are re­ally go­ing to ben­e­fit from a guy who knows what’s what,” he said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James Mat­tis (right), Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s pick to lead the Depart­ment of De­fense, has won bi­par­ti­san praise, but some Democrats are con­cerned that his re­cent mil­i­tary ser­vice dis­qual­i­fies him for the job.

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